Cotton Production and Regenerative Agriculture
March 30, 2021
How Regenerative Agricultural Practices Increase Cotton Profitability While Supporting Environmental Initiatives
Brands and consumers are putting increased pressure on cotton producers to continually improve environmental outcomes and stewardship at the farm level. Regenerative agricultural practices help meet this demand, while supporting cotton producers’ financial sustainability amid increasingly unpredictable and harsher growing climates.
Cotton Incorporated’s Agriculture and Environmental Research Division and other U.S. industry partners provide research and technical support to cotton growers, ginners and support industries with projects that promote regenerative agricultural practices at the intersection of producer profitability and environmental improvement.
Regenerative Agriculture vs. Regenerative Practices
The term ‘regenerative’ comes up constantly in conversations about more sustainable and preferred cotton fiber choices, but what does it really mean? To get to the heart of it, first we need to understand the difference between regenerative practices and regenerative agriculture.
Regenerative agricultural practices: address a single element or set of practices that support agricultural sustainability.
Regenerative agriculture: a holistic agricultural philosophy that aims to positively influence ecosystems by supporting soil health, biosequestration, biodiversity, ecotoxicity, climate resilience, water systems and micronutrients.
Regenerative agricultural practices are the foundation of regenerative agriculture, but there’s no one-size-fits-all combination of them that’s best for every ecosystem. Still, regenerative agricultural practices are the starting place for cotton producers looking to produce more sustainable cotton fibers.
Examples of Regenerative Agricultural Practices
- No or low-till plowing
- Cover cropping
- Rotational farming
- Precision agriculture
- Integrated pest management
Over time, regenerative practices can increase cotton production and naturally reduce the need for crop inputs (fertilization, irrigation, etc.). Implementing regenerative practices successfully can improve agriculture ecosystem health and farmers’ economic stability.
Learn more about how agricultural practices help support the U.S. cotton industry’s science-based environmental targets.
Soil Health and Regenerative Agriculture
Soil health and regenerative agricultural practices are foundational to our agricultural research program at Cotton Incorporated. Each year we invest nearly one million dollars on soil health related cotton research. While each producer’s situation and region are different, the benefits of improved soil health can be quite dramatic from a profitability and sustainability perspective.
Cotton Incorporated makes all of our research — as well as input from contributors like the National Cotton Council, Plant Health Exchange and universities across the U.S. — widely available to U.S. growers through the Cotton Cultivated website. Cotton Cultivated provides up-to-date, region-specific information and tools for cotton growers looking to improve soil health and adopt other regenerative agricultural practices.
Improving soil health is a key strategy for increasing cotton productivity and cotton sustainability.
Learn more about adopting regenerative practices that support soil health, by watching our webinar.
Cotton Farmer Peer-to-Peer Learning about Regenerative Agriculture
The Soil Health Institute is another key resource providing information and tools promoting regenerative practices at the farm level in order to achieve large-scale environmental benefits. With support from Cotton LEADS ℠ partners Wrangler and Walmart (through the Walmart Foundation) and VF, the Soil Health Institute launched The Healthy Soils for Sustainable Cotton Project, to work directly with U.S. cotton producers to help them understand how to improve soil health by adopting regenerative practices while increasing their profit.
Recently the Soil Heath Institute’s efforts in this vein took on a peer-to-peer learning opportunity called theHealthy Soils for Sustainable Cotton Farmer Showcase. Each of these webinars showcases a specific region of the U.S., discussing the region-specific challenges and success producers encounter when adopting soil health practices like no-till and cover crops.
The last showcase webinar live-streamed on March 23, 2021, with Chief Sustainability Officer at Cotton Incorporated Dr. Jesse Daystar noting, “When you begin to treat the soil as a living ecosystem and focus on what is growing below ground to the same degree as what is growing above the ground, the benefits can be surprising.” Dr. Daystar went on to talk about how regenerative agricultural practices like conservation tillage and cover cropping improve soil health while addressing sustainability goals like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing water use efficiency and increasing grower profitability.
Watch the latest farmer showcase webinar here.
It is important to note that these regenerative agriculture practices can add substantial complexity to an already dynamic and complex agricultural system. Producers ultimately end up managing and growing another crop on top of their primary cash crop, if adopting cover cropping. However, if consumer demand for sustainable cotton continues to rise, understanding the intricacies of regenerative agriculture can be helpful knowledge for professionals throughout the cotton supply chain. Cotton Incorporated provides information for growers and the broader cotton community alike through the Cotton Cultivated and CottonWorks sites respectively.
The work we do is possible because of collaborations with researchers like these and partnerships with people all throughout the value chain. Ready to commit to sustainably produced cotton? Become a Cotton LEADS ℠ partner today. Interested in doing even more? Contact us for ideas to get the most out of sustainable cotton and your partnership with Cotton LEADS.
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