Sunday, October 17, 2021

Louisiana farmer-leader advances national cotton sustainability strategy

kellon lee
Kellon Lee is a fourth-generation farmer from St. Joseph, Louisiana — photos courtesy Field to Market

Kellon Lee, a fourth-generation cotton farmer, is advancing sustainability both by implementing conservation practices on his own operation in Louisiana and by promoting grower involvement in sustainability initiatives nationwide.

For Lee, the sustainability conversation doesn’t end at the farm gate — it is has opened up a whole new world of possibilities and partnerships.

“The world we live in now, you can’t just look right across the turn row any more,” he said. “There’s a bigger picture, a bigger world out there that’s interested in what we’re doing specifically, even right here in Louisiana.”

Lee farms 4,500 acres in Tensas Parish in northeast Louisiana with his father and uncle. He first began analyzing his operation’s sustainability performance as part of the Louisiana Cotton Incorporated Continuous Improvement Project enrolled in Field to Market’s Continuous Improvement Accelerator. Lee worked with trusted advisers to enter his data into the Fieldprint Platform and identify areas for continuous improvement.

“I started using the Fieldprint Platform to collect all of my data and with the tool, I’ve been able to focus on where I’m being wasteful, focus on my soil loss and see what practices I could use that would be beneficial to our specific operation,” he said.

After just one year entering data, he began to see opportunities for improvement and began implementing a continuous improvement strategy on his operation, which included a shift toward reduced tillage, planting cover crops and maximizing nitrogen-use efficiency.

“Over half of our operation now has winter cover crops on it every year,” Lee said. “When we’re getting winter rains, that vegetation holds the soil in place better than it would be if it was just bare soil. That keeps our soil loss down, it keeps our fertility in check, and keeps run-off out of the river and streams. It’s certainly a win-win.”

Equipped with new insights into his operation’s sustainability performance, Lee is now one of the farmer-leaders helping to scale the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, the cotton industry’s nationwide program. It integrates Field to Market’s sustainability analysis directly into its farmer-facing tool, expanding the reach of farm-level environmental metrics to cotton producers across the United States. As a result, it enables the industry to collectively document and demonstrate progress against its ambitious sustainability goals.

“Using Field to Market’s metrics within the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol opens the door to having those conversations with the public and brands and retailers,” Lee said. “We can show exactly what we’re doing on our farm, what decisions we have made and what improvements we’re making.”

kellon lee
Kellon Lee not only has embraced sustainability on his family’s operation, but he also advocates for it among fellow farmers.

“Not only is Lee’s work important within the state of Louisiana, it also is an essential component in the nationwide cotton promotion of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol,” said Dr. Andy Jordan, an agricultural consultant and adviser to the protocol. “The protocol is the industry-lead effort of all sectors of the cotton industry to assure global textile brands and retailers to look first to U.S. cotton to meet their responsible fiber sourcing needs.”

For producers like Lee, the protocol is opening new opportunities to collaborate with stakeholders across the industry and partner together to drive progress.

“I never would have dreamed of sitting in the same room with brands and retailers that are interested in what we’re doing right here in my little home town to help make an impact on the environment,” Lee said. “If we’re all having similar conversations about doing our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, being together at the same table is the only way we’re going to move forward.”

The Cotton Trust Protocol contributed this article.

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