Do you raise sustainable cotton? Wow, that is a tough question. I did not know how to answer it the first time someone asked. The first thing you need to look at is the definition of “sustainable.” According to Cotton Incorporated, sustainability is defined as a “balance between growing profitability, protecting the environment and promoting social responsibility.” That does not sound too bad. It might have been in the 1990s, but with the new technological advances in agriculture, there is no reason why we cannot all be sustainable today.
In the past, I always thought there was organic cotton, and then there was everyone else. Rais-ing organic cotton is not for every producer, but it does have its place in the market. In 2011, the organic cotton retail market increased by 32 percent, yet production dropped 37 percent.
I am a fifth-generation farmer. I love my job and way of life that raising cotton brings to my family. But it is not only a passion, it is a business. Not many cotton farmers would or could raise cotton if it was not economical for their operations. It is every farmer’s dream to hand down his operation to the next generation and in better shape than when he found it.
Let’s be honest. Planting cotton two rows at a time or picking cotton by hand in today’s world is simply not sustainable. Technology has advanced the cotton industry in the last 50 years far beyond what our grandparents could have imagined. These enhanced technological changes have assisted farmers in becoming more vigilant toward the environmental care of our land. The use of the integrated pest management system and boll weevil eradication program are two prime examples of how the industry has drastically reduced the need for pesticide applications. Techniques that eliminate water loss and soil erosion have made us more profitable and better stewards.
Farmers were “green” before “green” came to mean something other than a color. Sometimes the mainstream media and our urban neighbors forget that farmers share the same air, water and land with everyone. It is a world for everyone, and farmers know better than most the truth in the saying “if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you.”
Cotton farmers are aware of the positive steps available to protect and enhance environmental quality. Today, farmers are saving between 65 to 78 percent more water than 20 years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. When you consider that farmers depend on clean and safe water and air for our own families every day, it explains our motivation in sustainability.
Farmers take our role as stewards of the land seriously, and so we should. We have a responsibility not only to ourselves and our families but to customers around the world. Through the use of biotechnology, the crops we grow today are cleaner and safer than ever before. Through sustainable practices, we are able to achieve higher yields, while burning less fuel and using fewer inputs.
Our customers want a quality product for a reasonable price. They also want to know that the clothes they buy in the store were made from cotton grown with care by a farmer with concern for the environment. The farming industry is still evolving and will continue to make strides in sustainability and efficiency. We have come a long way since Eli Whitney’s day, but his spirit of innovation is still with us. Huge transformations are occurring each year in the farm industry. Continued innovation and implementation of sustainable practices are what keep American farmers competitive and advancing in the global market.
God looked down on the Earth he created and said, “I need a caretaker for this world I have made.” And so, God made a farmer.
– Doug Wilde, San Angelo, Texas