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April 2014 Issue
Is Organic Cotton A Viable Option?
As the marketplace continues to demand organic options in purchasing choices, thoughtful discussion regarding organic cotton production continues to circulate in the Western Cotton Belt.
Making the option work for an operation takes dedication to prepare for the transition to organic.
Ramon Alvarez, who farms with his family in the Mesilla Valley of New Mexico, has been growing cotton organically since the mid 1990s.
“It’s a good way to farm,” says Alvarez. “It feels very comforting to know I’m doing my part. It’s definitely satisfying.”
It wasn’t necessarily an easy transition to take conventionally farmed land and convert it into an efficient organic operation.
The land must not have any conventional crop protection products – fertilizers or pesticides – on it for three consecutive years.
Difficult Decision To Make
Del Wakimoto and his daughter Jennifer have explored the organic option for their farming operation located along the Colorado River in western Arizona.
“You can’t call it that (organic) until you get there,” Wakimoto says about the three years without using conventional chemistries.
It’s a difficult decision to make if a producer is unsure whether the option is a good fit for the operation.
In areas where there is concern about insect pressure, a producer must be very sure that the option will work. Alvarez was less concerned about his farm in the Mesilla Valley.
“Our country is perfectly suited,” he says. “We have a killing frost, so we don’t have to defoliate. We have eradicated the pink bollworm and boll weevil. It’s perfect.”
But, growing practices are not the only consideration for moving to the organic market.
“Margins are closing down for organic cotton,” says Jennifer Wakimoto about the market.
While prices for organic cotton can be close to double the going price for conventional, the yield of organic is often half, sometimes less, than a conventional crop grown in the same environment.
Organic producers will also likely encounter higher ginning costs than conventional cotton because a white glove cleanout must take place each time the gin transitions from conventional to organic cotton.
Sometimes the discourse between producers and organic advocates gets loud and divisive.
“Our enemy in organic cotton is not conventional cotton or genetically modified cotton,” says organic producer Don Cameron of Helm, Calif.
“It is synthetics. If synthetics take away more of the conventional cotton business, it will ultimately reduce organic cotton business.”
Brent Murphree is the Cotton Board’s Regional Communication Manager for the West. Interested parties may contact him at (602) 810-1171 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.