Less is more when it comes to water in cotton agriculture


By Dr. Gary Adams, President, U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol

Tuesday March 22, 2022 marks World Water Day and in the U.S., National Ag Day.

Both opportunities allow us to reflect on how precious a resource water is. Farmers know that it needs to be managed properly, its quality and availability protected for today and for generations to come.

The role and use of water in agriculture is a critically important topic. A consistent misconception is that cotton is a water-intensive crop.


Cotton does need water to grow, but that water usage is properly managed. Two-thirds of cotton grown in the U.S. is not irrigated, using only natural rainfall. Roughly a further third uses irrigation to supplement natural rainfall and only 2% is dependent solely on irrigation.

And the amount of water used in growing U.S. cotton has already been significantly reduced by 79% over the past 35 years — a reduction of four-fifths in the amount of water used in less than four decades.

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is in the forefront of helping American cotton growers produce ever-more sustainably grown cotton. One of the initiative’s key targets is for a further 18% reduction in water usage by 2025.

That target is ambitious, but achievable, in large part due to technological innovations. Trust Protocol grower members are deploying water-sensing technology to accurately map and track the specific areas where water is needed their fields. Almost two-thirds of U.S. cotton growers now employ some type of precision technology.

This is important because it means that they are watering only those areas necessary. Computer-driven moisture sensors show water-level measurements at a series of soil depths, allowing growers to understand if their cotton is receiving enough water at all levels: by completely understanding the soil’s moisture, farmers can irrigate much more efficiently – if irrigation is needed. Irrigation scheduling technology and drip irrigation ensure water soaks into the ground. Growers also are measuring and managing water evaporation from the soil and plants, and some are even using agronomists’ expertise to assist with irrigation scheduling and crop coefficients.

All these practices ensure that Trust Protocol grower members are making the most of every single drop of water.

It is important that we improve our water efficiency across the cotton value chain. The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol provides the verified data to show that we’re using less of our natural resources when it comes to the clothes we wear.

Become a member today at TrustUSCotton.org.