Producing U.S. Cotton Responsibly.
Regulation, Oversight and Compliance.

It takes a lot to grow a safe, responsible crop.
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Farmers may leave plant growth to overwinter or clear it at the start of a new growth season. Prior to planting, farmers sample the soil to assess the nutrient content and soil health.
Land Conservation Planning

Under the USDA Food Security Act and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, farmers must certify that they will not:

  • Produce an agricultural commodity on highly erodible land without a conservation system
  • Plant a commodity on a converted wetland
  • Convert a wetland to grow an agricultural commodity.
Soil Conservation

By adopting soil conservation best practices, U.S. cotton farmers have reduced soil loss by 30% over the last 35 years. 64% of U.S. cotton farmers employ some form of conservation tillage. Link

2014 Farm Act/Conservation Programs

Farmers may apply for assistance to adopt conservation programs such as conservation easements and environmental quality incentives for agricultural and forest lands. Farmers can undertake conservation management activities through USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Stewardship Programs to help protect and improve water quality and quantity, soil health, wildlife habitat and air quality. Link

Mechanical planters plant seed up to 24 rows at a time. The planter opens a small trench or furrow in each row, drops in seed, covers it, and packs the earth on top of it.
Handling Chemicals Safely

The EPA mandates through the Clean Air Act General Duty Clause that facilities using or storing hazardous materials including pest management technologies must:

  • Follow set standards
  • Identify hazards their facility may present from accidental releases
  • Design and maintain safe facilities
  • Minimize consequences from accidental releases

Farmers must be approved through EPA, and possibly state and county agencies, to use and store pest management technologies and other chemicals. Link

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)-Equipment

OSHA mandates that farmers protect workers from the hazards associated with moving machinery in farm field equipment and farmstead equipment. Link

Best Practices Sharing

U.S. cotton scientists and organizations share studies and best practice research to advance the industry as a whole. The U.S. cotton industry set the following goals for environmental footprint improvement by 2025:

  • Increase Soil Carbon by 30%
  • Increase Land Use Efficiency by 13%
  • Decrease Soil Loss by 50%
  • Decrease Water Use by 18%
  • Decrease Energy Use by 15%
  • Decrease Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 39%
Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)-Water & Sanitation

OSHA mandates that field and farm workers have access to safe water and sanitation. Link

Cotton seedlings grow to robust plants that bloom and eventually form bolls. Farmers use precision agriculture—the precise application of inputs such as nutrients, water and pest management practices—to grow more cotton more efficiently.
EPA and State Water Regulations

In addition to EPA discharge regulations, states may have water regulations that apply to cotton farmers to manage use. Link

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The U.S. Department of Labor FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments.

Integrated Pest Management

Farmers monitor and manage their crops safely for weeds, insects and diseases. Cotton farmers comply with 8 federal regulatory areas concerning pest management technology use. Since the 1980s, insecticide use by cotton farmers has been reduced by more than 50%.

Worker Protection Standards
(WPS) and Pesticide Worker Safety 

EPA regulations require farmers to provide training and inform workers about pesticide safety, provide protections from potential exposure, and have plans to mitigate exposure. EPA also maintains standards for the certification of pesticide applicators and ensures that workers have training and the ability to safely handle, store and apply pesticides. Link 1 Link 2

Carbon Footprint Estimating Through COMET-VR

Farmers may use tools such as the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service tool to estimate their carbon footprint. Research on cotton tillage and conservation practices shows how cotton stores more CO2 than it emits. Link 1 Link 2

EPA Small Drinking Water Systems

EPA mandates that farm operations with 25 or more workers maintain safe small-water drinking systems. Link

Continuous Improvement Data

Through the support of research and implementation of technology, U.S. cotton production has made great progress in conserving the resources used to grow cotton. Since 1980, cotton production per unit has seen the following improvements:

  • Land use – 31% reduction
  • Soil conservation – 44% reduction
  • Irrigation water applied – 82% reduction
  • Energy use – 38% reduction
  • Greenhouse gas emissions – 30% reduction.
At maturity, the bolls open, and the cotton dries in the sun. Now, it’s ready to be harvested. 200 pounds of cotton can be harvested in 90 seconds. Today’s pickers use yield monitors and GPS systems to track crop areas with better yields, which can improve results next season. Machines form harvested cotton into round or rectangular modules which are transported by truck to cotton gins.
Migrant, Child, and Seasonal Worker Laws

Farmers comply with many laws that protect workers and ensure a safe working environment. These laws include:

  • State Laws
  • The Department of Labor Migrant and Seasonal Workers Protection Act
  • The Department of Labor Fair Labor Standards Act/Child Labor Act
Link 1 Link 2 Link 3
Module ID Tags for Cotton Farm Sources

Module ID tags allow for the gin to trace the cotton to the location where it was grown. Link

The cotton modules are tagged and driven to the gin, where the cotton seed is removed from the lint. The lint is compressed into cotton bales weighing about 500 lbs. each. The cotton seed is crushed and the oil is extracted. Leftover meal and plant matter can be used in animal feed and other products.
EPA, FDA and OSHA Laws in Ginning

In the ginning process, cotton is subject to additional regulations, including:

  • The EPA Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act “FIFRA” Link
  • The EPA Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) Link
  • The EPA Food Quality Protection Act Link
  • FDA Food Safety Modernization Act Link
  • Clean Air Act (EPA) Link
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) Link
Permanent Bales Identification (PBI)

Each bale is tagged and two cotton samples are removed from each bale and sent to the USDA classing office, where they are retained. Link

USDA Classing

Cotton is tested using high volume instrument (HVI) methods by the USDA and its quality data is available from the USDA database. Link