Water is an important and renewable resource, and cotton growers strive to use it responsibly, using practices like no-till farming and advanced irrigation systems to optimize water use.1 In fact, most U.S. cotton is produced using only natural rainfall.2

With just one acre-inch of rain, modern cotton varieties tend to yield at least 50 pounds of lint and 75 pounds of seed3 (~10mm of rain on a hectare yields at least 23 kgs of lint and 34 kgs of seed) – enough to make more than 170 t-shirts and feed more than 10 cows.4

In the past 35 years, U.S. cotton producers have reduced their irrigation water use by 79% per bale.5

The U.S. cotton industry set a ten-year sustainability goal to further decrease water use by 18% by 2025.6

In the U.S., 64% of cotton produced requires no irrigation, 31% receives supplemental irrigation, and only 5% is fully irrigated.7,8

IN THIS SECTION
Irregation

Irrigation

When rainfall is not sufficient, many cotton growers in developed cotton-growing countries use advanced irrigation systems to efficiently provide supplemental water to cotton crops. Supplemental irrigation can be a critical factor in the overall sustainability of cotton crops; in some cases, the amount of cotton lint per acre can double.9

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Textile Dyes

Textile Dyes

New textile dyeing processes embed dye within the cotton fibers instead of coating them, or use foam dyeing for jeans, which reduces water waste in the manufacturing process.

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Water Run-Off

Water Quality

Many cotton growers employ conservation tillage practices and other regenerative agriculture practices to improve surface water quality and soil health and reduce run-off, in turn increasing the soil’s water holding capacity.10,11

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In the U.S., 65% of cotton acreage doesn’t use irrigation.12

A Confident Future for Water Conservation

Every liter of water used to grow this essential crop matters. Cotton growers are committed to using water responsibly through intelligent irrigation, water management practices that ensure water also benefits local ecosystems, and manufacturing processes that minimize water use or recapture water for reuse, such as foam dyeing of jeans. Cotton Incorporated directs research intended to continually improve irrigation efficiency and lower cotton’s environmental impacts.

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  1. Barnes et al 2020. FORTY YEARS OF INCREASING COTTON’S WATER PRODUCTIVITY AND WHY THE TREND WILL CONTINUE. https://doi.org/10.13031/aea.13911
  2. Zwart, S. J., & Bastiaanssen, W. G. M. (2004). Review of measured crop water productivity values for irrigated wheat, rice, cotton and maize. Agric. Water Manag., 69(2), 115-133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agwat.2004.04.007
  3. Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. (2016). Environmental and Socioeconomic Indicators for Measuring Outcomes of On-Farm Agricultural Production in the United States Field to Market. Retrieved from http://fieldtomarket.org/media/2016/12/Field-to-Market_2016-National-Indicators-Report.pdf
  4. https://cottontoday.cottoninc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Cotton_Sustainability_2018_low.pdf
  5. Jalota, S. K., Sood, A., Vitale, J. D., & Srinivasan, R. (2007). Simulated crop yields response to irrigation water and economic analysis: Increasing irrigated water use effi ciency in the Indian Punjab. Agronomy Journal, 99(4), 1073–1084. https://doi.org/10.2134/agronj2006.0054
  6. Wall, D. H. (2012). Soil ecology and ecosystem services. Oxford University Press. https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199575923.001.0001/acprof-9780199575923
  7. Daystar, J. S., Barnes, E., Hake, K., & Kurtz, R. (2016). Sustainability Trends and Natural Resource Use in U.S. Cotton Production. BioResources, 12(1), 362–392. https://doi.org/10.15376/biores.12.1.362-392