Shortage of shipping containers sends cotton industry ‘back to the future’

Australia’s cotton industry is set for a blast from its past, with more than 100,000 bales exported next month to Turkey via bulk shipping.

Like most global commodities that are exported by sea, cotton is normally placed in shipping containers.

But a global container shortage and general problems with ocean freight logistics have prompted exporters to look for alternatives.

“We have a record cotton crop, the market is clamoring for our high quality cotton, so Australian cotton shippers have been looking for other ways to get our crop to market,” said Cotton Australia Managing Director Adam Kay. said.

“One of the options that will be implemented is the use of break-bulk, so that bales are loaded from the quay, directly into a ship’s hold – this is how cotton was exported. “

Like the vast majority of commodities, Australian cotton is generally exported by sea in shipping containers.(Reuters: Amir Cohen)

Back to the future

The first Australian shipment of ginned cotton took place over 100 years ago.

Queensland bales were loaded onto the SS Westmorland, bound for England in July 1921.

“So the company that does this [shipment to Turkey] uses a hospital grade vessel, which has been used in the past for wood pulp.

“It’s a vessel with a gantry-type crane system that can lift these bales of cotton off the dock and into the hold efficiently and without damaging the cotton.”

Mr Kay said the industry could not remember when the shipping method was last used for cotton.

a black and white photo of a cart carrying loads of cotton.
Cotton unloaded at a new gin in Brisbane in 1921.(Supplied: Australia Cotton)

Growing markets

A few years ago, China bought around 70% of Australia’s cotton crop.

Then, in October 2020, the Chinese government began telling mills to stop buying Australian cotton or risk having their quotas cut.

Mr Kay said the industry had worked hard to find new markets and expand existing ones such as Turkey.

“I think they were having a hard time getting ships and containers up in the Mediterranean and that’s why this [break bulk] option is currently under consideration.

Australia is on track to produce a record 5.5 million bales this year.

Like most commodities, the price of cotton has fallen in recent weeks and is currently valued at around $770 a bale.

Job , updated