BEST PRACTISE: Hopeland cotton farmer Greg Bender recently won the Vanderfield Grower of the Year Award.
BEST PRACTISE: Hopeland cotton farmer Greg Bender recently won the Vanderfield Grower of the Year Award. Julia Baker

Pick of the cotton crop

IT'S taken years of hard work and dedication but after almost 25 years, Greg and Maryann Bender are finally the pick of the Darling Downs cotton farming crop after recently taking home the Vanderfield Grower of the Year Award.

Mr and Mrs Bender purchased the dry land property, Baradoo Plains, at Hopeland soon after they were married in the early 90s.

"I was always keen on it, I saw the value in it, at the time that was the reason. We bought this place assuming we were going to grow wheat worth $200 a ton and I think the first year we harvested it was worth $90 a ton and we thought 'we can't see this paying the budget'.

"That's what really interested me about cotton it was a young dynamic industry whereas the grain industry was an older industry...the cotton industry is a more progressive industry.”

Mr Bender said he was surprised to receive the reward which includes cotton farmers from across the Darling Downs and is judged not on yield, but on best management and sustainable practice.

"I got married and started growing cotton and I still haven't worked out how to do either properly,” Mr Bender laughed.

"I didn't expect to win it, everyone's done a pretty good job really. I don't really 100% know what the judging criteria is but it's a bit of a blend. Years ago, all the competitions were strictly about yield.

"Yield is now a minor part, they're looking more at the whole farm picture - your water use efficiency and irrigation, how you transfer and move water around the farm.”

In the last four years, the Benders taken a new approach to irrigation, installing a 1200 metre sprinkler system which has allowed them to diversify their 2000 acre property.

As well as their tried and true cotton crop, they now grow corn, chickpeas, mung beans and barley.

"We put a big sprinkler irrigation system in to try and cut our water usage down,” Mr Bender said.

"Basically it can irrigate a 600acre paddock without doing any work so you are using less water and you don't have to go out and shift all these siphons all the time and it's a lot more water efficient.”

Mr Bender said the irrigation system meant he could grow crops all year and that in the past two years chickpeas had been "a good money spender”.

"They are a legume and put a lot of nitrogen back into the ground,” Mr Bender said.

"For a tonne of chick peas $500 us usually a good price but the last two years they have been consistently $800-1000 a tonne."


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