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Building farmer awareness key to sustainability efforts

Brent Murphree IMG_0522.JPG
Brand and retailers have directives to source naturally grown fibers.
Helping growers understand the importance of sustainability-enhancement programs.

Nathan Reed and Jesse Flye have been doing their part to help educate clothing brand and retailer representatives about sustainable cotton production by inviting them to their farms and local gins.

Now, they’re also lending their efforts to help growers better understand the importance of their participation in sustainability-enhancement programs like the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol and the Better Cotton Initiative.

“Fortunately, I’ve been able through Cotton Incorporated, USDA and the National Cotton Council to have quite a bit of interaction with brands and retailers,” said Reed, who farms in Lee and St. Francis Counties in Arkansas. “I traveled to China and Dubai a couple of years ago to speak to cotton mill owners.

“We also do a program every year where we bring brands and retailers into the Mid-South. They ride a cotton picker and go to a cotton gin. A lot of the interaction is with their sustainability managers, who say ‘I’ve been given a directive to be sustainably sourced, and the American cotton industry needs to respond.’ This definitely is in response to what the industry is wanting and needing.”

“We have to make this happen,” said Flye, who farms in Poinsett County, Ark. “We’re at a crossroads now as cotton farmers. There’s some awareness now on what polyester is and what it does to the environment. I think if we can prove what we’re doing is sustainable, which it is, it gives us a chance to really increase our demand for cotton again.”

Reed and Flye

Reed and Flye were speakers for the April 2 Soil and Water Conservation Virtual Field Trip webinar on sustainable cotton production. The webinar was one of a series funded by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and hosted by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Dr. Bill Robertson, cotton specialist with the University of Arkansas Extension Service, moderated the webinar, which also included presentations by Dr. Jesse Daystar, vice president and chief sustainability officer with Cotton Incorporated, and Karen Wynne, U.S. program coordinator for the Better Cotton Initiative.

“Every American cotton farmer will qualify for the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol,” said Reed. “They just need to sit down for an hour and fill out the form. But what we’re doing is already sustainable. I tell brands and retailers cotton has been so volatile compared to what we were getting 20 or 30 years ago there’s not any unsustainable cotton farmers left.

“We have to do variable rate fertilizer; we can’t waste inputs or we won’t stay in business. I think they understand that; this is to prove what we’re doing more than anything else.”

“As growers we need to take an hour and get it done,” said Flye. “It’s not scary – it’s something that is going to benefit us in the long run.”


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