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Soil Health

Why Do Crops Need Fertilizer?

In addition to carbon dioxide, water and sunlight, all plants need mineral nutrients to grow. The primary nutrients needed are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, though other secondary micronutrients are also essential. There are various methods to meet the fertility requirements of cotton, including the use of nitrogen-fixing cover crops, manures and soluble fertilizers. Applying fertilizer to crops encourages growth and optimizes yields reducing the amount of land needed to grow a bale of cotton.

Mapping Cotton’s Fertilizer Needs

While fertilizer is very useful for cotton growers, its sustainability relies on how well it is managed. Excess nitrogen in particular can cause challenges with water quality and greenhouse gases – and could delay cotton harvest, reducing fiber quality. Precision agricultural mapping can help growers understand precisely where to apply fertilizer and how much to apply, ensuring each plant only receives exactly as much as it needs. Today, almost 73% of U.S. cotton growers indicate that they employ some type of precision technology in their crop management, with most reporting that they use precision technology for the site-specific application of soil nutrients.1 Using this technology, farmers know what their crop needs, at what point crops require additional inputs, and exactly where in their fields fertilizer needs to be applied. This precision application minimizes excess applied nutrients and improves the sustainability of the crop.

Conserving Soil Resources through Modern Practices

Growers continue to implement new crop and land management practices to help balance nutrient needs with environmental risks. One example is the use of ground-based sensors to map soil texture to quantify the composition of different types of soil such as clay, silt and sand. These different types of soil can all have different fertility levels. So even if the soil is not exactly the same across a field, the use of ground-based sensors ensures that every plant gets only the nutrients it actually needs.2 Other beneficial practices include the planting of year-round cover crops, and planting field buffers that prevent nutrient runoff to local waterways.3


How Cotton Can Fit Into a Sustainable Future

How Cotton Can Fit Into a Sustainable Future

Consumers are increasingly interested in sustainability and how the choices they make affect the environment. Responses to Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ survey show that consumer interest in sustainability and apparel has increased from 46% in 2011 to 49.7%...

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Celebrating the Innovations of Cotton Growers

Have you ever picked up your go-to cotton t-shirt and considered how this garment came from a farm to your closet? While many of us appreciate the qualities this natural fiber brings to our favorite clothes, it’s easy to forget that what we are wearing started with a...

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Power Plant: Fiber and Food from Cotton

When you think of cotton, you think of the fiber for clothing and personal care items. Did you know the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulates cotton as a food crop? The food service and restaurant industries have been using Cottonseed oil, a coproduct of cotton...

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  1. ROBERTS, ROLAND K., BURTON C. ENGLISH, JAMES A. LARSON, and REBECCA L. COCHRAN. (2003). Use of Precision Farming Technologies by Cotton Farmers.” Beltwide Cotton Conferences: pp. 288–95. https://doi.org/10.13031/2013.13978.
  2. Barnes, Edward M.; Sudduth, Kenneth A.; Hummel, John W.; Lesch, Scott M.; Corwin, Dennis L.; Yang, Chenghai; Daughtry, Craig S.T.; Bausch, Walter C. (2003). Remote and Ground-Based Sensor Techniques to Map Soil Properties, Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing 69(6).
  3. EPA. (n.d.). The Sources and Solutions: Agriculture. https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/sources-and-solutions-agriculture