Globally the demand for sustainably made cotton garments have been on the rise. As the leading farm level, science-based initiative that is setting a new standard in more sustainably grown cotton – U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol found that leading global brands and retailers have witnessed a 61 percent increase in sustainable products demand among the consumers.
The level of U.S. cotton growers’ sustainability is unparalleled. As the global apparel consumers are increasingly pushing global brands and retailers to provide transparency and evidence that sustainable practices are being implemented – sustainable cotton growing in the USA has long been a focus.
Despite this much progress, U.S. cotton farmers appreciate that they must always advance in order to protect and preserve the earth— to ultimately aid create more sustainable clothing.
This is where regenerative agriculture comes in. As opposite to merely having a neutral impact on the environment, it goes a step more and aims for net positives with practices that better the land. U.S. cotton growers’ efforts towards incessant improvement are central to the Trust Protocol and the U.S. cotton industry taking sustainability to the next level.
Practices such as conservation tillage and growing cover crops have aided soil health and improved soil carbon levels.
Though U.S. cotton cultivators have been applying these techniques for decades, these practices have lately been grouped into a manner of farming called regenerative agriculture.
The philosophies of a regenerative agriculture system are founded in Indigenous ways of land management and are adaptive to local physical conditions and culture.
These principles include:
- Minimizing soil disturbance
- Maintaining living roots in soil
- Continuously covering bare soil
- Maximizing diversity with emphasis on crops, soil microbes and pollinators
- Integrating livestock where it is feasible
Gradually, regenerative practices can upsurge productivity and naturally decrease the need for external inputs required for plants.
Common regenerative practices as reported in the Trust Protocol include cover cropping, no or low tilling, biodiversity, rotational farming, precision agriculture, integrated pest management and intentional use of inputs that are landscape specific.
Dividing the data The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is the only program measuring the impact and outcomes of these sustainable growing practices.
Regenerative agriculture is not a one-size-fits-all manner of farming. Instead, it looks at a combination of practices that support resilience, as well as building and nourishing our ecosystem.
2021/22 data from U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol growers shows:
- More than 55 percent of Trust Protocol acres were planted with cover crops, which encourage food security and reduce atmospheric carbon.
- Continuous reduced or no-till production increases the amount of soil organic matter near the soil surface, and in 2021/22, more than half of reported acres practiced no-till and 30 percent practiced reduced tillage.
- 70 percent of Trust Protocol reported acreage practiced crop rotation in 2021/22.
- 70% of Trust Protocol reported acreage practiced integrated pest management (IPM), which is a science-based approach that strategizes tools and techniques to identify and manage pests.
There is no ultimate line when it comes to sustainable practices or regenerative agriculture. Individuals and organizations continue to grow new technologies, processes and research that aid growers in further implementing new and innovative sustainable practices.
Now more than ever, people care about the environment and how their clothes are made.
And, while the distance from U.S. cotton fields to the runways of global fashion brands and consumer closets may seem far, the focus on regenerative agriculture has never been more impactful.