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From November 30, 2006                                                                                                        

Domestic Cotton Growers Look Toward Sustainability
(Beyond Pesticides, November 30, 2006)
U.S. cotton farmers, like the majority of farmers in the U.S. today, are finding it extremely hard to compete in the world commodities market, and are looking towards organic and sustainable cotton as a means of getting ahead. The Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP) is helping these farmers institute programs to decrease their chemical dependence and connect with manufacturers and consumers interested in sustainable cotton.

Cotton is one of agriculture’s most chemical-dependent commodities, requiring a multitude of pesticides to contain unwanted species. Seventy percent of the cotton grown in the U.S. is genetically modified, such as the “Roundup Ready” variety, which makes glyphosate-resistant cotton plants. In addition to the chemicals used to deal with competing plants and insects, harvesting cotton also requires defoliation to prevent wet leaves from staining the cotton or growing mildew. For conventional growers, this means the use of chemical defoliants.

California’s Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP) has developed a growing program known as BASIC—Biological Agricultural Systems in Cotton—which discourages growers from using pesticide-dependent GMO crops and encourages sustainable practices, such as cover cropping, composting and organic pest management. Not as stringent as an organic program, the BASIC program does not require growers to completely abolish the use of all chemical inputs, but it can result in a substantial reduction in pesticide use, as high as 73 percent.

What sustainable cotton growers now need is support from the garment industry, to provide steady demand for sustainable harvests. From the garment industry’s perspective, consumer demand will have to drive the transition from the much cheaper conventional cotton grown abroad to sustainable cotton grown domestically. "We're concerned about the impacts of chemicals, and the health of everyone along the supply chain," says Erica Bloomenthal, an executive with upscale clothier Eileen Fisher, which sells a line of organic cotton T-shirts. "But we're in a global economy, and we can't ignore that.”

Some producers are hoping that with the increasing interest in the quality, safety and history of our food, consumers will begin thinking more about what they wear as well. Del Forte Denim founder Tierra Del Forte hopes so, explaining "people are now getting much more interested in where their food comes from. That's what I want to do with my business, to get people to think that their clothes come from somewhere, and that there are people involved every step of the way."

Source: Grist Magazine