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Demand growing for sustainably sourced cotton

Brands and retailers are looking for sustainably produced fiber for their clothing lines.

Many clothing brands and large retailers have set goals of obtaining 100% of their raw materials from suppliers who can document that they produce those fibers using environmentally sustainable practices.

That should give cotton producers a leg up because they are providing a naturally grown fiber rather than one created in a manufacturing facility with petroleum products. But growers have to be able to back up their claims.

“The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is brand new,” said Nathan Reed, a cotton producer who farms in Lee and St. Francis Counties in Arkansas. “It was a program created by farmers for farmers in response to brands and retailers and the cotton industry needing proven sustainably-sourced cotton.

Proof of sustainability

“We know American cotton growers are sustainable; we know the practices we have implemented, especially compared to the rest of the world, are extremely sustainable, but we have to have a way to prove that and that is where the Trust Protocol came along.”

Reed and Jesse Flye, a cotton producer who grows it and other crops in Poinsett County, Arkansas, were speakers for the April 2 Soil and Water Conservation Virtual Field Trip, which was funded by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and moderated by Dr. Bill Robertson, Extension cotton specialist with the University of Arkansas.

“We’re involved in both the Better Cotton Initiative or BCI and the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol,” said Flye, who farms with his father and brother near Jonesboro. “They’re both similar in what they ask, and they’re both similar in that we’re doing most of these things already.

“They both open your eyes to more possibilities of helping cotton be more sustainable. At the end of the day we’re growing a sustainable product. We need to prove that and this helps us do it.”

Tour hosts

During the virtual field trip, which was hosted by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Robertson introduced Dr. Jesse Daystar, vice president and chief sustainability officer for Cotton Incorporated, and Karen Wynne, U.S. program coordinator for the Better Cotton Initiative.

Daystar discussed the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, which has now enrolled about 300 cotton producers in what its leaders hope will become an industry-wide program demonstrating the sustainability of U.S. cotton.

“Cotton Incorporated conducted research polling Generation Z,” he said. “Those are the younger individuals now, but they’re really moving into the buying class. When we asked what was important to them, sustainability topics came out as three of the top main concerns – climate change, pollution and too much waste – along with a myriad of other topics.”

Wynne, who is based in north Alabama, said the Better Cotton Initiative is a global nonprofit organization that is designed to make cotton better for the people who produce it, better for the environment where it grows and better for the sector’s future.

“BCI was established to build demand for cotton that’s produced in a way that’s better for farmers and the environment,” she said. “BCI owns and operates the world’s largest cotton sustainability system. We’re aiming to transform cotton production by developing better cotton as a mainstream commodity and not as some kind of niche product.”

To watch the Soil and Water Conservation Virtual Field Trip on producing sustainable cotton, visit Soil and Water Conservation Virtual Field Trip - Cotton Agricultural Sustainability - YouTube.


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