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Cotton growers are the foundation of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.

Shelley E. Huguley, Editor

March 7, 2019

3 Min Read
Consumers call for production transparency. Cora Elin Hancock runs through her grandfather's field near New Home, Texas. Cora is the granddaughter of Dahlen Hancock, the Southwest Farm Press 2019 High Cotton Winner and NCC Sustainability Task Force Committee member.

The National Cotton Council is responding to consumer demand for sustainability, standards and verification.

The COTTON USA Sustainability Task Force, composed of industry leaders from the seven segments, is guiding the development of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, a voluntary grower program designed to demonstrate to the textile supply chain that U.S. cotton is produced with the environment in mind.

“For the last year and a half, we’ve had a task force working on sustainability initiatives and working to strengthen our sustainability message,” says National Cotton Council CEO and President Dr. Gary Adams. “As we are going through this process, we get feedback from the brands and retailers, and the textile supply chain, who still have questions about U.S. cotton, or they tell us the issues or challenges they're facing when they try to market products to the consumer. And there's much more focus now on some type of standard or some level of verification.

“In general, there's a call for more transparency within supply chains.”

While Adams admits U.S. producers are the most sustainable, the challenge is how to strengthen that message. “U.S. growers adopt technology and they're efficient with their resources. Their environmental footprint has been shrinking over time, so we have a very positive story to tell, and we have brands and retailers that acknowledge that message because we have strong support through the Cotton Leads effort. But at the same time, we still hear from others who say, ‘We need more,’ or ‘We need to see some type of standard or verification.’”

Later this year, NCC will launch a pilot program, says Adams, enrolling producers into a protocol program and allowing them to go through a self-assessment questionnaire which will allow them to assess production practices they are implementing now, those that may not be appropriate for their farming operations, or practices they may consider in the future.

“They will also use a data tool to measure their input usage.”


Adams says this information is important to cotton because the cotton merchandisers are hearing it from their mill customers who are hearing it from the brands and retailers that more verification is needed.

“We certainly are aware of the burden already on growers from a management standpoint, but the message we hear is we've got to continue to make sure we have access to the markets out there for U.S. cotton. We don't want cotton to be excluded from any end user because of some perception of not being sustainable or having established requirements within the supply chain that we haven't met. So, we have to do what we can to meet those requirements and to demonstrate we are continuously improving.”


The COTTON USA Sustainability Task Force includes producer leaders who have been and continue to be involved in the development and critique of the protocol platform to ensure it is not burdensome and is user-friendly.

“They've told us repeatedly that anything we do can’t add to a grower’s burden. To the greatest extent we can, we need to use the data tools many producers are already using,” says Adams.  “In addition, we need to tout the existing efforts of producers such as participation in the NRCS Working lands conservation programs.”

In the future, the hope is once a grower enrolls and receives his or her assessment and how it compares to their peers, it may provide feedback to the producer, says Adams, about how they can further address some of their production practices.

“We are not trying to tell them how to farm,” says Adams, “but eventually we would like growers to have some feedback and be able to say, ‘Okay, I see some opportunities for improvement.’”

But for the Trust Protocol to be successful, Adams says, growers are the foundation. “If we don’t have their buy-in or participation, this will never get off the ground. We can hear from downstream, but it starts with the producer and that’s where we’re focusing our development efforts right now.”



About the Author(s)

Shelley E. Huguley

Editor, Southwest Farm Press

Shelley Huguley has been involved in agriculture for the last 25 years. She began her career in agricultural communications at the Texas Forest Service West Texas Nursery in Lubbock, where she developed and produced the Windbreak Quarterly, a newspaper about windbreak trees and their benefit to wildlife, production agriculture and livestock operations. While with the Forest Service she also served as an information officer and team leader on fires during the 1998 fire season and later produced the Firebrands newsletter that was distributed quarterly throughout Texas to Volunteer Fire Departments. Her most personal involvement in agriculture also came in 1998, when she married the love of her life and cotton farmer Preston Huguley of Olton, Texas. As a farmwife, she knows first-hand the ups and downs of farming, the endless decisions made each season based on “if” it rains, “if” the drought continues, “if” the market holds. She is the bookkeeper for their family farming operation and cherishes moments on the farm such as taking harvest meals to the field or starting a sprinkler in the summer with the whole family lending a hand. Shelley has also freelanced for agricultural companies such as Olton CO-OP Gin, producing the newsletter Cotton Connections while also designing marketing materials to promote the gin. She has published articles in agricultural publications such as Southwest Farm Press while also volunteering her marketing and writing skills to non-profit organizations such as Refuge Services, an equine-assisted therapy group in Lubbock. She and her husband reside in Olton with their three children Breely, Brennon and HalleeKate.

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