Cotton growers from the Northern Territory have toured southern Queensland and northern NSW growing regions to gain an insight into the process, from seed breeding all the way through to ginning.
With 100 hectares of cotton being grown in the Territory this year, NT Farmers plant industry development officer Andrew Philip, Katherine, said the Cotton Research and Development Corporation-funded tour was an important opportunity for growers.
"There's been a real lack of cropping overall in the territory," Mr Philip said.
"There's been some successful trials in Kununurra which has got a lot of interest in people growing cotton in the north.
"With the expansion of the cotton industry, there's only one way for it to go and that's to the north, so we got together a group of growers and have come down to look at everything to do with the cotton industry, production systems, irrigation systems, definitely looking at rain-fed versus irrigation."
The Department of Primary Industry has just planted a trial crop of GM cotton at its Katherine Research Station.
There have long been dreams of growing new crops in the NT like cotton, or even rise, but concerns remain about the availability of water.
Mr Philip said there's a huge opportunity for rain-fed dryland crops to be grown in the Northern Territory because of regular rainfall.
"A lot of the farms are being developed from scratch or from hay paddocks, so we're looking at what is the best way to go forward with the development of an industry," he said.
"It's critical that we see a pathway and we develop a pathway to get processing done in the Northern Territory because not only will it provide a profitable crop and room for farmers to expand what they do, but the by-product, cottonseed, will have a significant and maybe even bigger impact on the Northern Territory by the ability to feed cattle and possibly intensify the beef industry in the north as well."
Mr Philip said a lack of consistent markets had been one of the problems holding back agricultural development in the NT.
"Transport costs is a big factor if it's not being consumed in the Territory and that is what's basically knocked a lot of industries on the head previously," he said.
"There's been a history of industries starting and then stopping, the analogy up there is industries failing, but it's been just from a lack of dedication to the market and working out the supply chain.
"Growers are not planning to make money out of cotton this year, it's to start the process of learning how to grow it, what we can do, what else we need to research, how we can modify things for the future.
"The Territory is looking for something that can increase the returns per hectare; they've been looking for a long time and haven't found anything that stacks up as much as cotton."
The group stopped in at Vanderfield Toowoomba on Friday afternoon to look at some of the newest planting technology.
Vanderfield chief executive officer Bruce Vandersee said the company had always hoped to see a cotton industry in the north.
"The timing is perfect now for that to happen," Mr Vandersee said.
"There's always a good side to bad things, the fact that there's a drought here, people are now focusing on the north where these water resources aren't anywhere near as limited.
"The areas up there need a world price commodity. Hay is marketed locally, all the horticulture is successfully marketed locally, and sugar was in the Ord for a while but the scale wasn't there.
"Cotton will definitely grow up there and give them the world price commodity they need."
- from Queensland Country Life