US cotton growers know that sustainability must start with the soil. Ensuring sustainable production for decades to come requires more than conscious growing practices — farmers must also have access to credible data on the soil’s health.
For US cotton growers, their land is their livelihood. They work tirelessly to preserve their soil — not only for the survival of their crops but to safeguard their farms for their children and grandchildren, as well. Over the past 35 years, conscientious growers have increased soil carbon levels, reduced soil loss by 37 percent, and boosted biodiversity by adopting new and more sustainable practices.
Cotton growers have relied on certain production practices for decades; but with a better understanding of their potential impact, over the past 35 years, they have adopted new practices to help protect the environment. In the past, growers often tilled or plowed their land to prepare it for planting by breaking up the topsoil to create divots for seeds.
However, this method left the soil disturbed and uncovered, releasing carbon dioxide into the air that was trapped in the ground and causing topsoil to be lost by being simply washed or blown away. Growers have adopted conservation-tillage practices, such as no-till and minimal-till farming, that leave the ground intact.
Research has shown the uptake of conservation-tillage practices reduces erosion and increases carbon sequestration from the atmosphere by as much as 400 pounds of carbon per acre per year. Today, nearly one-third of US cotton farms practice no-till.
To double their fields’ carbon-sequestration ability, growers combine conservation-tillage practices with the use of cover crops such as rye, legumes and root vegetables. Cover crops help growers protect their fields all year round. By providing shade, cover crops decrease evaporation from the soil, which means both less irrigation and less erosion.
These plants further protect the land by boosting biodiversity. The roots of cover crops such as radishes break through compacted dirt and provide earthworms with shade and food, which loosens and naturally aerates the soil, and allows for better water absorption and much less run-off. Cover crop usage is growing in the US roughly 8 percent per year.
Like cover crops, growers are also increasingly adopting precision agriculture technologies to improve their sustainability by expanding the use of GPS receivers, multi-spectral images and ground-based sensors to map out soil property variations. This in-depth mapping technology is being used as a tool to provide a snapshot of what the specific needs are for a specific field.
For example, soil moisture probes provide water level measurements at a series of distances below the ground, which enables cotton farmers to understand if their crops need additional water. Today, almost two-thirds of US cotton growers employ some type of precision technology.
One can easily see that growers have made significant changes to protect the land they call both home and office. But while these sustainability practices and tools are now commonplace in the US, these improvements haven’t been properly demonstrated to brands and retailers due to a lack of comprehensive data. That is where the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol comes in.
The Trust Protocol underpins and verifies US cotton’s sustainability progress through sophisticated data collection and independent third-party verification. It measures six sustainability metrics, including soil loss and soil carbon from US cotton growers, and shares farm-level data in aggregate with brands and retailers to help them better measure against their sustainability commitments.
This is why the Trust Protocol is aligned with national goals to reduce US cotton’s soil loss by 50 percent and increase soil carbon by 30 percent by 2025.
With access to the new system, growers can continuously improve their farms’ sustainability and soil health. The Trust Protocol provides growers with what they need to baseline their operations including verified year-over-year data to measure their progress and insights and best practices from across the industry to help them work towards the 2025 national goals.
By signing up for the Trust Protocol, brands and retailers will gain access to US cotton with sustainability credentials proven via Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, measured via the Fieldprint Calculator and verified with Control Union Certifications.
Members will also experience full supply chain transparency through the Protocol Credit Management System, which uses TextileGenesis’ blockchain technology to record and verify the movement of US cotton fiber along the entire global supply chain.
Since its launch in 2020, the Trust Protocol has welcomed over 350 members across the supply chain including Gap Inc., Gildan, Byford and Next; and mills and manufacturers across the globe. These members have joined to better understand the sustainability progress of US cotton and communicate that progress to their customers.
US cotton growers know that to progress with sustainability, they must start at the soil. Better care for cotton fields preserves the quality of the land, improves biodiversity, and sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. While progress starts in the ground, the US Cotton Trust Protocol ensures it doesn’t end there.