Boggabri cotton growers, Andrew and Heike Watson, who have reduced their water usage while increasing their yield, were today awarded the 2014 Brownhill Cup during a ceremony at Commonwealth Bank AgQuip in Gunnedah, NSW.
The Brownhill Cup is one of Australia’s most prestigious agricultural awards and is announced annually in recognition of innovative farming practices that improve sustainability, productivity and profitability in agriculture.
The Watsons were acknowledged for their commitment to ecological and economic sustainability, which includes initiatives ranging from on-farm research and development, to involvement in the Climate Champions program.
The Cup was presented by Tim Harvey, NSW General Manager Regional and Agribusiness Banking, Commonwealth Bank, who congratulated the Watsons on combining business and farming innovation.
“Andrew and Heike Watson, their family and the team maintain a focus on ongoing practice improvement to help ensure the success not only of their own business, but of the cotton industry,” said Mr Harvey.
“The Watsons recognise the connection between environmental sustainability, innovation in farming and a strong agricultural economy. By sharing their learnings with the wider farming community they are helping to create a positive future for the industry.”
Mr Watson said managing water usage is a challenging issue and has been central to the success of his family’s 3,000 hectare operation.
“Evaporation and seepage are always challenges whenever you store water. Learning how to use our irrigation and manage our farm has really made a difference for us. We have increased the frequency of our watering cycles, which sounds like it should use more water, but it doesn’t. Our water usage has reduced by about 20 per cent over the past 11 years, while our yield is up by about 30 per cent,” he said.
Mr Watson is using moisture sensors and crop canopy heat sensors to help determine when and how much to water the crop. Lateral move irrigation systems, which can increase pasture and crop production while using less water, have also been introduced.
At the same time, the Watsons focus on ‘soft’ chemistry and pest management methods.
“We’ll tolerate a little damage in return for not having to spray so much, and we trust predatory insects to help us control pests,” said Mr Watson.
Trees have been planted and vegetation belts developed to promote predatory insects and insect counts are conducted every week.
All new initiatives on the Watson property are trialled before being fully rolled out, and results are shared with the cotton growing community.
Currently, four fertiliser trials are underway, and work is being conducted to find the right balance between organic and chemical fertilisers.
Brownhill Cup founder David Brownhill commended the Watsons on their achievements.
“Andrew and his team have made a considerable contribution to agriculture, and especially to the cotton sector. Their field trials and on-farm research have contributed to the industry’s understanding of best practice, and they have set the bar high for innovative and sustainable farming practices,” said Mr Brownhill.
This year the perpetual cup was accompanied by a $2,000 prize from Commonwealth Bank and the Brownhill family that will allow Andrew Watson to participate in an industry event that aligns with the goals of the Brownhill Cup.