The Northern Territory (NT) government's proposal to expand cotton production has sparked concern among environmentalists, who argue that it will lead to destructive land clearing practices. 

The government recently unveiled plans to increase the land area dedicated to broadacre cropping, including cotton, to 100,000 hectares.

While dryland cotton has been identified as a lucrative cropping option in the NT, environmental groups are concerned about the potential ecological impact. 

The Environment Centre NT condemned the strategy, stating that it would contribute to the ongoing biodiversity crisis and exacerbate the collapse of ecosystems. 

Kirsty Howey, the centre's executive director, criticised the government's support for expanding large-scale cotton production, calling it environmentally destructive.

The agribusiness 2030 strategy (PDF), launched by the NT government, sets ambitious targets for the agricultural sector, aiming to increase the industry's value from $1.3 billion in 2021 to $2 billion by 2030. 

The plan outlines various challenges and opportunities, including modifying existing pastoral land tenure to accommodate cropping and horticultural activities, as well as streamlining land clearing and water licensing procedures.

Paul Burke, head of NT Farmers, expressed support for the strategy, emphasising the importance of government commitment to the agricultural sector. 

“Industry welcomes the development of this strategy and government's commitment to the agricultural sector,” he said. 

However, environmental concerns persist. Critics argue that the proposed strategy disregards the potential consequences of unsustainable land clearing and the expansion of the cotton industry. 

Adrian Tomlinson, CEO of the Arid Lands Environment Centre, criticised the government's attempt to grant the industry more rights before establishing proper regulatory frameworks. Tomlinson also highlighted the need to address climate change and ensure responsible land management practices.

The strategy includes proposals to expedite land clearing and water licensing approvals, construct new cotton gins, and promote the growth of the cropping industry. It leans heavily on dryland cotton as a high-value option for expanding agriculture in the NT.

Stakeholders from various sectors are reportedly engaging in discussions about responsible land management, efficient water usage, and the long-term implications of the strategy.