Stepping stones to a rewarding career

Career pathways in cotton production

Cotton is grown in over 100 countries around the world, many of which are newly industrialising countries. It’s estimated that there are 100 million cotton producers in the world, with China, USA, India, Pakistan and Brazil the world’s biggest producing nations.

Australia is a relatively minor producer on the world scale but is the world’s second largest exporter.

However, Australia’s cotton industry is underpinned by an enormous research effort that is funded by cotton growers in partnership with the Australian government, through the Cotton Research and Development Corporation. The cotton research program covers the business of farming, soil health and water management as well as human capacity (attracting, training and retaining the workforce) and the value chain.

The major production area in NSW stretches south from the Macintyre River on the Queensland border and covers the Gwydir, Namoi and Macquarie valleys.

In NSW cotton is also grown along the Barwon and Darling rivers in the west and the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee rivers in the south.

In Queensland, cotton is grown mostly in the south in the Darling Downs, St George, Dirranbandi and Macintyre Valley regions. The remainder is grown near Emerald, Theodore and Biloela in Central Queensland.

Cotton is known for its versatility, performance and natural comfort. It’s used to make all kinds of clothes and homewares as well as for industrial purposes like tarpaulins, tents, hotel sheets and army uniforms.

Cotton fibre can be woven or knitted into fabrics such as velvet, corduroy, chambray, velour, jersey and flannel.

In addition to textile products like underwear, socks and t-shirts, cotton is also used in fishnets, coffee filters, book binding and archival paper. Cotton is a food AND a fibre crop. Cotton seed is fed to cattle and crushed to make oil. This cottonseed oil is used for cooking and in products like soap, margarine, emulsifiers, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, rubber and plastics.

Cotton ginning is the process of purifying cotton by removing waste, seeds and seedpods from cotton fibres or lint. Inside the cotton gin, seed cotton moves through dryers and cleaning machines to remove waste such as burs, dirt, stems and leaf material.

Competent and skilled people are required in the industry, machinery operators and chippers for planting, cropping and cultivation, irrigators for watering, cotton pickers, module builders and boil buggy operators to harvest, gin operators for processing, and crop managers and supervisors to run the farm.

Agronomists are also needed to advise on plant health and nutrition.

* Source acknowledgement: Cotton Australia

Jobs and qualifications

Assistant Farmhand Certificate I in Rural Operations »
Farmhand Certificate II in Agriculture »
Field Equipment Operator Certificate III in Agriculture »
Field Supervisor Certificate IV in Agriculture »
Farm Business Manager Diploma of Agriculture or Rural Business Management »
Rural Business Manager Advanced Diploma of Agriculture or Rural Business Management »
Assistant Farmhand

Cotton farmhand assistant positions are usually at the beginning of a career in the cotton industry. Working under direct supervision, assistant farmhands carry out basic field duties, machinery and equipment operations and maintenance.


The cotton farmhand is likely to be involved in a wide range of farming tasks under limited supervision, ranging from operating tractors and equipment to undertaking irrigation activities, chemical applications, crop maintenance and farm maintenance.

Field Equipment Operator

A cotton field equipment officer is a skilled farmhand, and is likely to be involved in coordinating a wide range of cotton farm operations. This will include irrigation operations and maintenance, harvesting, farm maintenance and operating machinery and equipment.

Field Supervisor

A cotton field supervisor is responsible for workers and cotton farm activitie. This involves supervision of planting and crop maintenance activities, supervising and training staff, budget and stock control and managing machinery and equipment.

Farm Business Manager

A cotton farm business manager will have significant responsibility for managing cotton farm activities. This will include property planning and management, crop management and production, staff management and business planning and operations.

Rural Business Manager

The cotton farm business manager has the primary responsibility for ensuring the cotton farm enterprise is successfully managed. The responsibilities will include whole farm planning and management, managing production systems, product marketing, strategic planning and rural enterprise management.