AWARD WINNER: Dalby cotton grower receives highest honour
COTTON farmer Alexander Stephens said from the moment he was little, he was just “hooked” on farming and cotton.
Weekends and school holidays were spent on his father’s cotton and grain property, and he grew up not just living on the land, but appreciating it and all its challenges and beauty.
“I was keen to do anything I could just to be involved with growing the cotton crops, I’ve always been passionate about how well a crop performs and behaves, particularly in our conditions here on the Darling Downs,” Mr Stephens said.
It’s this commitment to his work and his appreciation for the farming life that has earned him the 2020 Rabobank Young Cotton Grower of the Year Award.
An unwavering work ethic and thirst for knowledge were just some of the qualities identified by the judging panel that earned the 29-year-old this year’s coveted title.
He is currently employed by Dalby’s McVeigh family, and heavily involved in the family’s contract cotton- picking business.
His dedication to the contract picking business has expanded its client base from Dalby through to Miles, Jimbour, Georgetown and Cunnamulla in Qld, to Coleambally, Boomi and Hay in NSW, and all the way to Kununurra in WA.
It’s this passion and commitment that Rabobank senior rural manager Geoff Tyrrell said immediately impressed the judges.
“It’s evident Alexander has always taken a hands-on approach to growing cotton, opening up opportunities for him well beyond the Darling Downs, into to southern NSW, Western Australia, western and far north Queensland,” Mr Tyrrell said.
“Rabobank is supportive of the young cotton grower of the year award to acknowledge the role that our future generation play in the industry, and enabling them the opportunity to participate in industry events to develop their personal and business skills, as well as supporting them as they continue to make a positive contribution to the cotton industry.”
“I’ve always been eager to learn, so have tended to gravitate towards people who are knowledgeable within the industry – I guess they could identify my enthusiasm and I am forever grateful to the McVeigh family, and Nigel Corish who have all been important mentors to me.
“The industry is very innovative, from breeding new cotton varieties, to increasing crop
yields, to developing more pest and disease protection characteristics, to developing new
irrigation and farming techniques to improve water use efficiency – the industry is never
idle or complacent and it’s an exciting space to be in.”
He believed there were an infinite number of entry points into cotton farming for young professionals such as himself, thanks to the welcoming culture within the industry.
“This is, perhaps, the one thing I enjoy most about the industry – the pride that cotton
producers and the people involved within the industry have for the high-quality and highly regarded cotton Australia produces, and its willingness to embrace those just starting out,
be it young farmers, or people embarking on a new career path in cotton.”
With much of rural Australia having endured a challenging 12 months, he said the award,
while unexpected, couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Personally, it’s a real morale booster. We had the quietest summer season ever, with no
crop bar 90 hectares of double skip semi-irrigated cotton – it was a very strange scenario
but this award is a great reminder of why we do what we do,” Mr Stephens said.
And while the 2019/2020 season may have been small, timely rainfall in February drove a
miraculous recovery, with the recently picked crop expected to gin 8.5 to nine bales to the
Mr Stephens said the season had thankfully turned for the McVeigh’s family farming
operation, which comprises approximately 6,500 hectares of owned/leased and share
farmed cropping country, both irrigated and dryland.
Late planted sorghum was currently being harvested with strong yields, while late planted
corn would be harvested next month.
He said 95 per cent of the dryland winter planting program was complete, thanks to recent
rainfall, however areas north and west of Dalby were still too dry to sow.
With the McVeigh dams now at 85 to 90 per cent capacity, and all signs pointing to a favourable 2020/21 cotton season, Mr Stephens is relieved the industry can once again look to the future with confidence as weather conditions improve.
And it’s thanks to bright young achievers such as himself, that there is certainly much to look forward to.
“I was always so keen to be on-farm working with cotton, but I never thought I’d get to do so much, and be so involved in the industry, the opportunities I’ve had are beyond all expectations but I’m extremely proud to be part of the next generation of Australian cotton farmers, and help shape and showcase what a fantastic industry we have,” he said.
As part of Mr Stephens’ award, he will be a guest of Rabobank at the Australian Cotton Conference, which has now been postponed until 2021.