Cottoning on to a career in cotton

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Horizon Scholarship sponsor, the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC) wants young people to know there’s a diverse range of careers just waiting for them in the cotton industry.  

CRDC is a collaboration between the Federal Government and Australian cotton growers, co-investing $18.9 million into cotton research, development and extension projects in 2021-22, across approximately 200 projects and in collaboration with around 85 research partners. Cotton is a major contributor to the economic, environment and social fabric of rural Australia, with the industry’s national export generating an average of $1.9 billion in annual revenue.  

R&D Manager, Rachel Holloway says CRDC invests across five Strategic Plan goals in the following areas: optimised farming systems, sustainability of cotton farming, building adaptive capacity of the cotton industry, digital strategy and best management practice for workforce skills, work health and safety.   

To do all of this, it is crucial the cotton industry attracts a skilled workforce, and CRDC works with their partner organisation Cotton Australia to create a pipeline of career information from primary, high school to university and beyond.  

“There are different pathways that people enter the cotton industry, and we are really interested in the pathway for researchers and that’s a key reason we invest in sponsoring the Horizon Scholarship Program. It is one of the only programs that provides a touchpoint with early career researchers, and that’s important to us at CRDC,” Rachel explains.  

CRDC are walking the walk when it comes to making the industry attractive to those considering a career in cotton.  

“CRDC are invested in ensuring the cotton industry continues to attract, retain, and develop the workforce of the future, through social science research exploring skill development, leadership, workplace culture on farms and developing best practice for human resource management, which all agricultural industries are critically reviewing in light of the workforce issues growers are facing now and into the future,” says Rachel. 

So, what’s in it for future rural leaders? 

According to Rachel, there’s no shortage of issues to solve in agriculture and the industry continues to be innovative and world leading RD&E to benefit Australia’s dynamic cotton industry and the wider community.  

“It’s an exciting time to be in the cotton industry. We are seeing long term investments into critical research areas such as water use efficiency, which is delivering benefits for growers, the industry and the environment.

“CRDC supported projects have found that over the past 25 years, Australian growers have almost halved the amount of water needed to grow a bale of cotton, through improvement in irrigation infrastructure, management efficacies and higher yielding varieties underpinned by RD&E,” says Rachel.  

With the industry committed to responsible water stewardship and sustainability more broadly, it provides young professionals with a unique opportunity to have real impact on the future of agriculture and the environment.  

Speaking of challenges to solve, CRDC partnered with Australian Government Business Research and Innovation Initiative to approach entrepreneurs and businesses to develop new products and technologies to tackle agricultural spray drift.  

“I think these challenges are examples of how Research and Development Corporations (RDC’s) are trying new approaches to address the big issues facing agriculture,” Rachel says.  

“We are also seeing more cotton being grown in Northern and Southern Australia, and that brings its own challenges. With lower soil temperatures in the south comes disease and in the north there are challenges associated with wet tropical conditions. So, looking at solutions to these problem and enhancing the yield is at the forefront of the research in those particular areas,” says Rachel.  

It’s no secret that technology has the power to transform the agricultural supply chain from the paddock to the consumer, and it will definitely have a role to play in solving these challenges. But the power of such technology is significantly limited if it isn’t in the hands and on the farms of those who need it.  

“Digital agriculture is one of the biggest challenges we’re facing in cotton. CRDC supported research and collaboration remain at the leading edge of technological advancements. The industry is delivering revolutionary insect monitoring systems using smartphones, sensing technology, transformative new products using biotechnology to allow plants to fight pests, diseases, drought and climate change.  

“We all know digitisation will drive future profit and efficiencies, but we need to look at the solutions in terms of agritech adoption and uptake in regional communities and on farm,” Rachel explains.  

Rachel hopes that by sponsoring Horizon scholars, they will be able to nurture a new generation of cotton industry professionals, with the skillset needed to influence the sector, and make exciting changes for the industry from the farm to the ginning cycle.  

“The range of degrees eligible for the Horizon Scholarship program aligns with CRDC’s strategy of seeking students outside of agricultural degrees. Raising the diversity of people across the industry is critical to solving intersectional problems that cotton and agriculture more broadly, is facing,” says Rachel.  

To find out more about CRDC and the cotton industry, head to crdc.com.au.  

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