Flashback to a sunny day in the 1960s: Paul Kahl inspects the cotton plants on his field in New South Wales. A smile spreads on his face – his snow-white crops have unfolded to their full glory and the year’s harvest is bound to be a good one. Looking forward to today, Kahl’s success hasn’t stopped. After emigrating from California with his wife in 1961, they founded Merced Farming in Wee Waa, about 500 kilometers north-west of Sydney. Together with other U.S. entrepreneurs, they represent the beginnings of Australia’s modern cotton industry.
Neverending Success Story
In 2015, around 50 years later, Merced Farming still exists. Paul Kahl’s son, James, and his three grandsons, Daniel, Sam and Matthew have continued on the same path. “The fields are our backyard – they have always been a special place to us. Being part of this family farm is a great motivator,” says Daniel, the oldest of the newest Kahl generation. He and his siblings have their eyes set on moving the agribusiness forward: “Our father made it clear to us that this is the place to combine our strengths, ranging from managing the crops on the field to having an eye on the numbers back in the office,” Daniel Kahl continues.
Today, Merced Farming has grown to 4,000 hectares and produces up to 10,000 bales of cotton each year. This harvest quantity is sufficient to clothe the citizens of the German million-strong city Cologne from head to toe, once. Though this output is satisfying, James’ sons are running the family business in a time of limited resources. Water scarcity is a major problem: “We are the land of drought. It’s a critical factor that also has a negative impact on our soils,” says James Kahl who has 40 years of experience in agricultural practices. “In Australia, water is at the top of the agenda. Ultimately, we are farmers of water. Within one year, our industry requires about eight mega liters per hectare to produce 10 bales of crop. But oftentimes water is lacking,” he continues. Nonetheless, Down Under’s cotton experts have thought of a clever way to face this challenge: In Australia’s cotton regions, the water is stored in major reservoirs and then delivered to the cotton farms via river systems.
Being part of this family farm is a great motivator.
Neverending Success Story
Diseases, pests and weeds represent another challenge for the Kahl Family. To avoid them, the Kahl family applies a strict crop rotation. Half of the farm’s annual production focuses on cotton, one quarter consists of corn or maize and the final quarter is either wheat or mung bean. “This way, we are inherently avoiding resistance to insecticides or herbicides and keeping nutrient levels from getting distorted by the same crop being grown over and over again. We are giving nature a hand to avoid creating weak plants that need a lot of nurturing.” The Kahl Family’s crop protection program also benefits the farm’s soil: “Our preferred crop rotation takes good care of our soil. We must continue to improve its condition, raise its carbon loading level and make it a better performer,” continues James Kahl.
Cotton usage after ginning
Trust in Technology
The Kahl farmers also take care of their crops by trusting in modern technology: “As a key segment of Australian Agriculture, the cotton industry embraces new technology quickly,” says James Kahl. A lot of support comes from the Cotton Growers Service (CGS), which is a strong partner regarding digital technology. The organization supplies cotton growers with sophisticated technologies such as iPads, satellites and drones that collect in-field data on crop growth and health. “Out of all of this information, we make meaningful decisions to use fewer inputs and produce more high-grade fibers,” states James Kahl.
The Merced Farm Cotton Calendar
In a nutshell, Merced Farm’s identity is a mix of traditional and innovative elements: an impressive farming history and rich experience combined with the acceptance of modern technologies. These are not just the ingredients for the Kahl family’s success. It is the basis of Australia’s entire cotton industry. James Kahl proudly notes: “Today we produce the highest quality and the highest yields of any cotton-growing nation in the world. My family is dedicated to broaden our industry leadership – despite all the challenges we face.