Armitage Family - Cecil Plains | Rabobank Australia Client
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The Armitage Family, Cecil Plains

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Stuart Armitage is a man who is passionate about Australia’s cotton industry. For the past 40 years Stuart’s family has farmed ‘Wamara’, a 600 hectare irrigated cropping property near Cecil Plains in South East Queensland.

The property is now run by Stuart and his wife Maxine along with their son Tyson, daughters Dimitie and Felicity are also farming in the area with their families. Stuart says while a recent hail storm led to them planting some alternative crops, for him cotton is still where it’s at. “We suffered a big hail storm on the 23rd of December last year and it took out most of our cotton,” he said. “We ended up growing some soybeans, sorghum and mung beans to fill the gap, we’re happy with the alternative crops, but for us they’re not as profitable as cotton.”

“Because we’re an irrigated property we can forward sell with some confidence, we’ve currently sold out to 2019.”

With the cotton price now sitting at over $500 a bale there is every reason for Stuart to be feeling good about his commodity. “The cotton price spends only around 10 per cent of its time over the $500 mark so we try and take advantage of the price when it hits these peaks,” Stuart said.

Cotton innovation

Stuart says that the evolution of farming methods in the cotton industry have contributed greatly to their production confidence. “A lot has changed in the 22 years we’ve been growing cotton,” he said. “Water efficiency is much better; we now grow a kilogram of cotton per 300-400 litres of water, which is probably one of the most efficient yields in the country. We only need two in-crop irrigations to return 10 bales to the hectare.”

Contributing to the water retention of their cultivation has been the adoption of human waste as fertiliser.

“We grow 90 per cent of our crop on bio-solids that comes out of the urban areas of South East Queensland,”
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“While the idea can be a bit squeamish for some people, it’s definitely given us an advantage over fertiliser, and our fert input costs are now only about 10 per cent of what they were 10 years ago. That said, it isn’t free, while the actual cost of the product is minimal, the logistics of moving in excess of 20,000 tonnes onto the farm each year can be expensive in terms of loading and spreading. The results have definitely been worth it though, the soil has changed from being a really heavy, black soil to becoming more pliable, and there has been a massive increase in the humous in the soil.”

Stuart also credits the introduction of Genetically Modified (GM) varieties with their decreased use of inputs. We’ve had a big leg up thanks to GM, for example, where we were only getting 40-50 per cent bole retention, we are now getting 90 per cent,” he said. “The last 20 years we have been planting a variety that is resistant to heliothis and it has greatly reduced our spray program. 20 years ago we used a conventional variety and we sprayed it 18 times for caterpillars. Last year, with the GM crop we grew double the yield and only had to spray it twice for sucking insects.”

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Industry representation

Fortunately for Queensland agriculture, Stuart is not hiding his passion under a bushel, and has taken it to a broader audience as President of the Queensland Farmers Federation (QFF) and on the board of Cotton Australia. While balancing the conflicting demands of farming and industry representation has been challenging Stuart says it’s been worth it.

“When I first joined Cotton Australia I found it challenging as I hadn’t had any actual training and like most things, it was something I fell into,” 

“The cotton industry treats us so well that we thought we should give back at some stage, and for me it’s an easy job to do. I love growing cotton, talking cotton and helping to sell the industry.” Stuart is the first to admit that taking on the leadership of QFF has been a steep learning curve.

“The QFF experience has been a bit different for me as there are such diverse industries,” he said. “The role of QFF is really about trying to understand the challenges facing the different industries and helping them bring about a solution. Key focuses across the industries at the moment are water access, fair energy pricing, disaster relief and biosecurity.”

Finding the right people to participate on agricultural industry bodies in Australia has always been challenging as farmers tend to be very busy keeping their own heads above water. Stuarts says it is important that farmers make the effort to participate where possible. “You can get too taken up with your corner of the world and become too inward looking,” he said. “Farmers need to get out, even if it’s to the local grower meetings. We’re also encouraging the next generation to participate and the message seems to be getting through. We had a session at the most recent cotton conference for iGen farmers and there were in excess of 200 people at that session.

“Cotton is such a vibrant industry that it continues to attract young farmers and young professionals.”

Stuart’s Rabobank Rural Manager, Andrew Walker, says Stuart is a great example of someone who is passionate about the future success of the industry as well as his own farm. “Since joining Rabobank in 2009, we’ve seen Stuart and Maxine go from strength to strength,” he said. “Their focus on sustainable farming is great and something we encourage from a banking perspective.

“Stuart is a strong advocate for the cotton industry as well as a leading farmer and mentor for the younger generation."

“With Tyson back on the farm hopefully we’ll get to see more of Stuart spreading the good word of innovation and environmentally sustainable cotton farming in Australia.”

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