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Future Improvements Build On Past Successes

Gary Adams

Gary Adams

The U.S. cotton industry recently formalized goals to help further reduce the environmental impact of U.S.-grown cotton — a step that will improve the raw material’s popularity in the global textile sector.

How did this come about?
Four years ago, Cotton LEADS™ was co-founded by the U.S. and Australian cotton industries. The program is educating the cotton supply chain on 1) the responsible growing practices and environmental gains within the two countries and 2) how the self-investment by their growers contributes to those gains.As a way to ensure we continue to build upon the gains U.S. cotton already has achieved, the National Cotton Council adopted a resolution calling for the creation of the COTTON USA Sustainability Task Force. Chaired by Louisiana producer Ted Schneider, the task force subsequently collaborated with U.S. cotton industry associations on developing industrywide goals for measurable continual improvements in environmental stewardship, farm productivity, and resource efficiency such as land, water, air, input and energy use.

What are the task force’s specific goals?
U.S. cotton production goals being pursued by 2025 are reducing: 1) the amount of land needed to produce a pound of cotton fiber by 13 percent; 2) soil loss by 50 percent, in balance with new soil formation; 3) energy to produce seed cotton and ginned lint by 15 percent; and 4) greenhouse gas emissions by 39 percent; and increasing: 1) water use efficiency (more fiber per gallon) by 18 percent, and 2) soil carbon in fields by 30 percent.

We believe the United States may be the world’s only country with these kind of measurable, quantified goals. Our industry already is using science-based metrics and benchmarks developed by Field to Market®: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture to assess environmental impacts and identify opportunities for improvement. This comprehensive system works across the entire agricultural supply chain to define, measure and advance the sustainability of U.S. crop production. In fact, the Field to Market National Indicators Report (2016) — an independent assessment of environmental impacts across a range of U.S. agricultural commodities — revealed significant environmental gains for U.S. cotton over the past 30 years.

Is sustainability improvement a good investment?
The United States is one of the few cotton-growing countries that has national-level oversight of farm practices. It also has conventional growers so committed that they invest a portion of their profits into research and development programs aimed at improving their product’s quality and cost-efficiency. Their investment was boosted with the recent appointment of an overseer for the industry’s sustainability efforts — Dr. Jesse Daystar, vice president and chief sustainability officer for Cotton Incorporated.

The objective of this expanded sustainability reach is for the U.S. cotton industry to become the supplier of choice for those committed to only buying fiber produced with sustainable and responsible environmental, safety and labor practices. Our global customers already appreciate that we provide them with quality fiber in a timely manner. Now, we want to increase their awareness and appreciation of how that fiber is produced in an environmentally responsible way.

Gary Adams is president/CEO of the National Cotton Council of America. He and other NCC leaders contribute columns on this Cotton Farming page.