Major Benifits From Branding Australian Cotton

09 August, 2006

Australia, which leads the world in implementing defined best management practices for sustainable cotton production, must build on this advantage to maintain its marketing advantage.

Allan Williams, who manages an industry project involving the development of a brand for Australian cotton, said Australia’s reputation as a reliable supplier and producer of high yielding, high quality cotton with low levels of contamination, is under threat from advances occurring in competitor countries.

He told the Australian Cotton Conference that one means of differentiating our product is to develop a brand that represents Australian cotton, and what it can offer customers.

To explore the options for differentiating Australian cotton, and the implications of developing a brand, the industry successfully applied for funding under the Federal government’s ‘EMS Pathways Program’, a component of the Natural Heritage Trust.

The hypothesis of the cotton industry’s EMS Pathways project, which is managed by the CRDC, is that by developing a branded product, the Australian industry can enhance demand, which in turn provides an incentive to participate in the Best Management Practice Program, leading to increased adoption of BMP’s and improved NRM outcomes.

“Two aspects of Australian cotton stand out as offering the ability to provide a point of differentiation: high quality fibre, and good environmental stewardship.

“As they are both process-based characteristics, they will require systems to ensure that the cotton being traded is actually produced as claimed, hence a tracking and verification system is required.

“The challenge is to do this in a way that does not add cost, but also prevents merchants from substituting other growths to take advantage of any demand.

“As well as helping the industry deliver on its promise of good fibre quality, the existence of a set of codified, agreed practices can itself be used as part of a marketing strategy to promote the industry,” he said.

He noted that as cotton passes through many sets of hands, each of which can have an influence on the quality of the fibre before it reaches the spinner, quality control systems must be expanded beyond the farm gate, including transport, ginning, classing and warehousing.

“BMP’s for classing have been developed and agreed with the Cotton Classers Association. Information on appropriate agronomic and defoliation practices exists, and is being collated in preparation for publication as part of the ‘pak’ series being developed by the Cotton CRC.

“Draft guidelines for managing harvesting and module building have been developed, and will be refined during the upcoming season. The first steps to developing and agreeing on standards for ginning-related issues (eg. bale moisture content, bale packaging and ties, bale weights and bale storage) have been taken, with involvement from the growing, ginning and shipping sectors being proposed,” he said.

Mr Williams concluded that opportunities to brand Australian cotton do exist. On the environmental front the current campaigns in Japanese Department stores focusing on both the Australian and environmental characteristics of the cotton provide evidences of this, and the involvement of large retailers in the Better Cotton Initiative points to a potential future demand for sustainable cotton.

“On the fibre quality front, the combination of the existing (albeit informal) brand and the ever-tightening specifications being required by spinners, provides both the platform and need to formalise the existing good practices that are helping the industry to deliver on its brand promise.

“The challenge, however, is to be realistic about what such a brand may deliver — further consolidation of Australia’s position as a reliable supplier of high-quality, sustainably-produced cotton. The alternative is to surrender that position to our competition.”

FIBREpak being developed by the Cotton Catchment Communities CRC, recognizes that while many factors impacting on fibre quality cannot be controlled, some can be influenced.

FIBREpak will contain information for managing fibre quality at every step, from pre-planting to processing, in terms of what aspects can be influenced, options for managing those aspects, and providing an understanding of the needs and constraints of other participants in the supply chain.

Further information: Allan Williams 0419 935 301