The U.S. cotton industry provides sustainable cotton fiber to the world.
I know it. You know it, and a large percentage of people around the world know it, but that does not matter one iota. As more of today’s consumers want to know details of the origin of the ingredients that make up the products they purchase, brands and retailers are maintaining internal sustainability staff and initiatives that are requiring outside vendor-based programs to provide data verifying the sustainability of the goods they supply.
One program that has gained traction with some brands and retailers over the last decade is the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). Its website states that in the 2017-18 cotton season, farmers licensed by BCI produced more than 5 million metric tons of BCI cotton — 19 percent of global production.
At the recent National Cotton Council’s mid-year board of directors meeting, Ted Schneider, a cotton producer from Lake Providence, La., provided an update on the COTTON USA Sustainability Task Force he has been chairing that created a cotton sustainability verification program called the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.
The protocol is a voluntary farm-level program designed to allow U.S. cotton producers to input data from their operations to show the world’s brands and retailers how sustainable their operations are and to allow those brands and retailers to support their claims with that benchmarked data.
Schneider was the 2018 chairman of Cotton Council International — the overseas promotion arm of the National Cotton Council. He has seen first-hand the importance today’s brands and retailers are placing on sustainability — many of them working toward achieving 100 percent sustainable cotton use by 2025.
The pilot phase of the Protocol began on June 28. The goal is to have 750 to 1,000 producers enrolled in the program by October 2020. One marketing agency will direct messaging toward the U.S. producer segment to encourage enrollment. A global firm will promote the protocol to brands and retailers across the globe.
Online commodity trading provider, The Seam, is the Protocol’s IT company. It is creating a user-friendly electronic module a cotton producer will use to easily input farm data into Field to Market’s Fieldprint Platform. This aggregate data will be used to assure the sustainability of all U.S. cotton farming operations.
Another module, currently under development, will use permanent bale identification information to trace cotton after it is purchased. Both modules should be operative by next year, but producers are being asked to enroll in the program now to become U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol participants.
Legendary singer Carly Simon could just as easily have been talking about U.S. cotton producers when she sang Nobody Does It Better for the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me, because there are few countries around the world whose farmers produce sustainable fiber comparable to that grown by U.S. cotton producers.