The Australian cotton industry is internationally recognised as innovative, dynamic and hugely successful – due in part to the willingness of the industry to invest in world-class results and rapidly adopt the emerging science, innovations and technology.
However, the environment in which the industry operates – be it at the farm, industry or international scale – is rapidly changing. Increased volatility in production, prices and climate, combined with rising input costs, shortages of skilled staff, cotton’s declining share of the global fibre market, greater consumer awareness and rapidly emerging technologies all suggest that the future for the industry is going to be increasingly complex and uncertain.
The challenge for the industry is to continue adapting to these changes and remain profitable, sustainable and competitive.
As a result, a key aspect of CRDC’s research and development focus over the coming years is to invest in areas that ambitiously seek to transform the industry to ensure it is profitable, sustainable and competitive in 20 years time, and beyond. It’s an ambitious goal given that the future is unpredictable, so the challenge for CRDC is how and where to focus these investments.
CRDC’s three futures themes - profitable futures, sustainable futures and competitive futures - have been included in the CRDC’s 2013-18 R&D Strategic Plan, providing a clear framework through which CRDC can invest in long-term innovations to address its goal.
Of course, as with all ‘blue sky’ thinking, the sky really is the limit. The scope of research in which CRDC could invest in the future is extremely broad, so to assist the industry narrow this focus, a Futures Forum was held in late 2013 with 80 invited delegates from across the industry to help identify the areas of priority and possibility.
The Forum’s focus aimed to challenge the assumptions about the way Australian cotton is produced and used; identify new ways in which cotton could be produced and used into the future; and identify the points along the supply chain where CRDC could focus its investment.
A broad range of priority areas were established as a result of the forum (outlined in detail in the Futures Forum Delegate Report), giving CRDC some clear guidance as to where potential investments may now lie.
Following this, in late 2014, CRDC again held a series of forums: bringing together experts from inside and outside the cotton industry to identify priortity areas for CRDC's Cotton Futures investment.
This report, Designing a future for Australian cotton, outlines these priorities: the top 18 blue-sky research concepts which have the potential to add $4 billion per annum to the gross value of Australian cotton production. These include including agri–intelligence systems, autonomous farming, atmospheric water resources, carbon neutral farming, alternative cotton gin trash uses, and dissolving cotton.
In 2015, CRDC commenced four feasibility studies into projects investigating supply chain optimisation, dissolving cotton, utilising cotton as a substrate for carbon fibre, and using cotton for 3D printing.
In addition, cotton futures projects commenced in July 2015 under the Rural R&D for Profit program and CRDC’s future farm collaboration with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). In total, CRDC has budgeted to invest $8.5 million in cotton futures research projects from 2014–15 to 2017–18.