This article reviews research coordinated by the Australian Cotton Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) that investigated production issues for irrigated cotton at five targeted sites in tropical northern Australia, north of 21°S from Broome in Western Australia to the Burdekin in Queensland. The biotic and abiotic issues for cotton production were investigated with the aim of defining the potential limitations and, where appropriate, building a sustainable technical foundation for a future industry if it were to follow.
Key lessons from the Cotton CRC research effort were: (1) limitations thought to be associated with cotton production in northern Australia can be overcome by developing a deep understanding of biotic and environmental constraints, then tailoring and validating production practices; and (2) transplanting of southern farming practices without consideration of local pest, soil and climatic factors is unlikely to succeed. Two grower guides were published which synthesised the research for new growers into a rational blueprint for sustainable cotton production in each region. In addition to crop production and environmental impact issues, the project identified the following as key elements needed to establish new cropping regions in tropical Australia: rigorous quantification of suitable land and sustainable water yields; support from governments; a long-term funding model for locally based research; the inclusion of traditional owners; and development of human capacity.