Cotton root cutter on way to become one of most successful ag exports

THE list is long, from the stump-jump plough and Hills hoist to the black box flight recorder and bionic ear.

Yet there’s one modest Aussie invention that’s largely gone under the radar.

It’s the Queensland-­invented cotton root cutter, created in 1992 in a farm workshop and today used in an updated form by most Australian cotton growers.

Now the root cutter is being taken to the world, with machines already operating in the US, the world’s third biggest cotton producer.

Behind the move is Toowoomba company TTQ, producer of the award-winning Scorpion root cutter, claimed to be the cutter of choice for more than 95 per cent of Australian cotton growers.

Until now, the cotton root cutter, which uses revolving boron steel discs to cut away already-harvested bushes to stop regrowth, has been rarely seen or used in the US — yet TTQ is confident that after two years of successful demonstrations there it could become one of our most successful agricultural exports.

To date, American sales have been confined to demonstration machines, but TTQ is now investigating other options.

The cutter’s appeal, claims TTQ director Geraint Hudson, is that as a post-harvest clearing tool it is quicker and more effective than other methods.

In Australia, accepted practice now is to mulch the top section of the plant and then cut the taproot below ground to prevent regrowth.

In the US, said Mr Hudson before flying out to America’s cotton belt for more demonstrations, most growers still use a range of older methods.

“They tend to mulch or shred the remaining plant, but many don’t worry about the roots,” Mr Hudson said.

“You can call it laziness or lack of inventiveness, but a lot of the farmers don’t do anything with the stalk and then try and plant around it next year.

“You tell an Australian cotton farmer that and their eyes open wide and their mouth gapes open.

“And in some US states they are still using what they call the stalk puller, which most Australians would have parked 16 years ago as an idea because it was so erratic.

“It never worked very well in our conditions and it doesn’t work well in the States either.”

TTQ claims the latest Scorpion Series 1V, with a standard operating speed of 16-19km/h, decreases blockages and disc flips, common problems with root cutters, by 90 per cent.

Able to cover about 90ha in 12 hours, the cutter is frequently teamed with a mulcher to give a one-pass operation.

Mr Hudson contends the US farmers are happily buying Australian demonstration Scorpions because they have come to recognise the longevity of our farm machinery.

“America is very much a disposable economy and bizarrely enough that even applies to farm machinery,” he said.

There has also been interest shown from Argentina, Brazil and South Africa.

On his current US trip with other TTQ representatives, Mr Hudson is also talking with local cotton authorities and government bodies.

He said he believed it was only a matter of time before US cotton growers began taking notice of the impressive results from demonstrations, recognising they are missing out on a better method.

It was an education process, he said, adding that a degree of tact was also needed as America has been producing cotton for hundreds of years.

“You can’t just steam in there and say ‘hey, you’re doing it all wrong’. We do it very gently and say ‘how about we do a demo?’.”

In Australia the Scorpion Series 1V has evolved from an original design in 1996 by TTQ owner Lindon Smith.

It comes in four, six, eight and 12 row configurations, with the six-rower being the most popular.

Here, TTQ tends to sell machines according to how many rows a farmer wants a machine to handle at one pass.

“Last year we sold about (a combined) 118 rows in Australia, the year before it was about 180 rows, and the year before that was probably about 60 or so because it was a bit drier,” Mr Hudson said.

Add the US to the list and those figures could soar.

TTQ has set up a US outlet, TTQ USA, and is talking with other Australian manufacturers about forming a US hub to jointly handle production interests.

“In cotton at least, Australian farmers are streets ahead,” Mr Hudson said.

“The yields you get in Australia have never been dreamt of by the American farmer. If an American farmer scored four bales to an acre they wouldn’t believe it, whereas in Australia if you’re not getting six bales to an acre there is all hell.”

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia
Thursday, 08 November 2018

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