Cotton LEADS

Biodiversity – United States

Farming US cotton for the environment

Maintaining a healthy farm environment is a high priority of US cotton families and the rural communities in which they live. Biodiversity is an essential part of a healthy ecosystem. Cotton is seldom planted as a monocrop and is part of a vast milieu of crops, forest, native grassland, wetlands and habitat for a diverse population of large and small animals, plants and microflora. The interconnectedness of the cotton fields with the landscape maximizes the potential for a healthy, complex ecosystem.

Agricultural practices that enhance habitat and biodiversity have positive impacts for agricultural production through nutrient cycling, erosion control, pollinator services and water infiltration. Minimum tillage and cover crops promote a diverse soil microbiome, which improves nutrient cycling and efficiency. Conservation buffers are created to protect wetlands, forests and grasslands and create a robust habitat for wildlife.

Biodiversity Cotton Environment Cotton Fields

Progress takes partnership and collaboration

Biodiversity needs and conservation practices vary across geographic areas. To assist in managing the complex interaction of landscape cropping and habitat, the U.S. government, through its Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), provides technical and financial assistance. With the help of the NRCS, farmers and landowners work to maximize the potential for a diverse and dynamic ecosystem.

In 2018, the NRCS will spend more than $137 million for biodiversity improvements in partnership with farmers in states that grow cotton. Examples include efforts to increase:


  • Early succession habitat for pollinators and other wildlife in Arkansas
  • Drought resiliency, soil health, water quality and habitat conservation in California
  • Native longleaf pine in Gulf Coastal Plains and protection of habitat for gopher tortoise
  • Grassland restoration in southern Arizona
  • Pollinator habitat best management practices through technology transfer and adoption of pollinator health practices in Mississippi
  • Native cypress-tupelo brakes in Louisiana to conserve water resources and improve habitat for wildlife

Tools are also developed by the industry. Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture has developed a platform of metrics for farmers to evaluate their own progress toward sustainability. The platform includes these biodiversity metrics:


  • Habitat Potential Index (HPI), which assesses practices for habitat improvement outside of US cotton fields
  • Soil conditioning index, which provides guidance for farmers as a performance indicator of a healthy soil microbiome in the cotton field

Caring for pollinators

Pollinator health is a significant effort of agriculture and its partners.


  • Created the Pollinator Conservation Plans tailored for each state, recognizing ecological differences in each area
  • Communication and education that foster a strong level of communication with farmers and beekeepers
  • Selection of apiary locations that is ideal for native pollinators as well as commercial beekeepers
  • Promote conservation and natural vegetative barriers to work against any effects of exposure to normal farming practices

Learn more about the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program here.

Explore the research and resources we’ve pulled this information from.