Riverina cotton farmers eye Inland Rail benefits

In a decade, Southern Cotton in the NSW Riverina has grown from a first-year production of 166,000 bales to a total of 1.5 million bales bound for the Port of Melbourne.

Southern Cotton employees inspecting bales

In a decade, Southern Cotton in the NSW Riverina has grown from a first-year production of 166,000 bales to a total of 1.5 million bales bound for the Port of Melbourne.

At the same time, the home-grown gin in Whitton has transitioned from relying entirely on road-based freight to a mixed logistics system that is increasingly being supported by rail.

Southern Cotton Executive Director Kate O’Callaghan said decreasing logistics costs were beneficial to merchants and the cotton growers themselves, and enabled the industry to be more competitive in a global market.

“When we built there was a logistical gap for the region…in those first years all that we produced went on the road to Victorian warehouses before being packed into containers for delivery to the port,” Ms O’Callaghan said.

“I think with Inland Rail coming to our region it’s only going to bring greater efficiencies, greater weight capacity and quicker turn-around times for containers from the port and back to the ship.”

Logistics has been at the core of Southern Cotton’s incarnation, as cotton farmers growing in the southern region were constantly faced with the burden of freight costs as they were carting their materials up country to northern NSW.

Six farmers took on the financial risk themselves to set up the gin in the Riverina which has since gone on to become an innovative gin, adopting technology that traces the unique identifier in the round modules in the paddock through to the finished bales with a proud “dirt to shirt” ethos.

Ms O’Callaghan said this offers customers valuable agricultural data to ensure quality control and potential improvements in future harvests by identifying cotton quality location in the paddock.

In the last two years, Southern Cotton has taken the next step in diversifying its business, buying a share in Voyager Craft Malt.

They decided to use the barley and grain they grow in rotation with the cotton to supply Voyager Craft Malt with unique grains to supply the craft beer and whiskey brewers and distillers.

Last year, Southern Cotton opened the Whitton Malt House next door to the gin and it now showcases the beers and spirits produced by Voyager Craft Malt, as well as local produce.

“The local craft beer and whiskey has a solid domestic market, but the export potential is completely unrealised,” Ms O’Callaghan said.

“At the moment everything is leaving here on the road. We haven’t even investigated what rail looks like for that part of the business, but in a rapidly expanding business like Southern Cotton, Whitton Malt House and Voyager Craft Malt, continual improvement is always on the agenda and logistics efficiency is at the forefront.”

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