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Mike’s family property Cardale grows a wide range of agricultural products including cotton, grain and cattle with an average of about 450 hectares of cotton planted each year.
Cotton has been grown on ‘Cardale’ since the 1960s - the family intimately understands their land and the environment, including its subtle flows of water, different types of soils across the paddocks and which parts of the farm produce the best crops.
According to Mike, over-use of pesticides had been the dominant issue on his farm and across the industry in the early days. It was this that spurred the industry into action with the first Best Management Practices (myBMP) program nearly 20 years ago, with Mike a part of its development.
“There’s no doubt about it. We used too many pesticides and we had a limited understanding of their effects on our workers, other industries or the natural environment,” Mike says.
“Through the myBMP program, we’ve reduced our reliance on pesticides by 95% in the last 15 years and just this last season I only sprayed for insects once, with a very soft control option.”
The other main area of environmental improvement has been in water use efficiency, with the Carberry family investing in a whole-of-farm study examining every drop of water, where it travels on the farm and where the main losses occurred.
“The study found the biggest area for improvement was in losses from our on-farm dams and so that’s where we’ve invested the most effort to improve,” Mike says.
Dams have been re-configured and deepened to increase the amount of cold water and decrease the evaporative surface area. They use in-field water measurements to indicate when and where the cotton crop needs water.
“We’ve got cameras and sensors on dams, pump sites and supply channels that send a message to our mobile phones if water levels get too high or too low,” Mike says.
All of this innovation now means that ‘Cardale’ is operating at close to maximum water efficiency, with water measured and managed closely throughout the growing season and every effort made to reduce evaporative losses across the farm.
“We’ve also seen a tripling of our yields since we first grew cotton here, or in other words we now require only 1/3 of the land to produce the same amount of cotton. This is a great measure of our efficiency, and also our productivity which all must be in balance to be sustainable,” Mike says.
“Involvement with the Better Cotton Initiative is important to our industry here in Australia because we believe we’ve got a premium world product, grown with great respect for the environment and our people - it’s great to have that recognised on the world stage by a global program.”