Farming flipped on its head

The Crothers family saw a bright future ahead in the cotton industry, but moving from livestock meant taking on a massive challenge. Douglas Crothers talks about storing a year’s supply of water, completely restructuring the farm, and the need to plan for a sound financial future.

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Moving from livestock to cotton meant taking on a massive challenge but the Crothers family’s investment in cotton is paying off. Read their story.

Until the early 1970s, the Crothers family farmed sheep on their Booligar property in South West Queensland. In the mid-1970s, they moved to cattle. Then, in 1996, they made a much bigger switch to cotton.

“We’d been granted water harvesting licenses and we either had to start using them or sell the farm so that someone else could,” says Douglas Crothers, who features on the March pages of this year’s NAB Agribusiness Calendar. “At the time, there were three families on the property – myself and my brother Donald with our wives and children, and also our parents.  After a lot of thought and discussion, we all decided our best option was to use the licenses ourselves and that cotton would be the most economically-viable crop.”

A reliable water supply

The first step in making the switch was to build enough storage for a year’s worth of water. “When you’re growing cotton you really don’t want to run out of water at the end of the season,” says Crothers. “That’s when it’s needed to finish off the quality and quantity of the crop.”

They then laser-levelled the land, installed an extensive drainage system and built levies to protect the paddock from floods. They also needed to upgrade all of their machinery. “At the same time, Donald and I took another big step in buying out mum and dad, who were ready to retire,” adds Crothers.

Throughout this period of significant change, protecting his financial future was never far from his mind. “All farming comes with a degree of uncertainty so I think it’s important to keep debt under control and establish a succession plan early on,” he says. “For years, people have said that your farm is your superannuation, but I also think it makes sense to build up as many off-farm assets as possible so you don’t have to sell the farm when you retire.”

Looking to the future

Despite the challenges, the Crothers’ investment in cotton is paying off. “It took a lot of hard work and, as we knew nothing about cotton when we started out, we had to learn a lot very quickly,” he says.

Cotton BMP (Best Management Practices) has proved a valuable resource. A voluntary system of farm management driven by the growers themselves, it provides self-assessment mechanisms, practical tools and auditing processes to ensure that cotton is produced with best practice across a range of focus areas.

“BMP suggests low-cost ways of making the workplace safer and more hygienic, and that can help your end returns as well as make you a more up-to-date farmer,” says Crothers.

He’s also come to appreciate the generosity of other people in the industry. “They’ve always been very willing to share their knowledge and experience and provide help when we needed it,” he says.

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