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 one acre-inch of rain, modern cotton varieties tend to yield at least 50 pounds of lint and 75 pounds of seed3 – 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



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, E. M., et all 2020 (1970, January 1). Forty years of Increasing Cotton’s water productivity and why the trend will continue. Applied Engineering in Agriculture. https://doi.org/10.13031/aea.13911.
  2. United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (2019). 2018 Irrigation and Water Management Survey. www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/AgCensus/2017/Online_Resources/Farm_and_Ranch_Irrigation_Survey/fris.pdf.
  3. 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.
  4. Zwart, S.J., and W.G.M. Bastiaanssen. 2004. Review of measured crop water productivity values for irrigated wheat, rice, cotton and maize. Agricultural Water Management 69:115-133. https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/beef/whole-cottonseed-use-in-beef-cattle-diets/#:~:text=When%20whole%20cottonseed%20is%20fed,to%201.3%20pounds%20of%20fat
  5. 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. http://fieldtomarket.org/media/2016/12/Field-to-Market_2016-National-Indicators-Report.pdf.
  6. U.S. Cotton Ten Year Sustainability Goals: Pathways to Progress. (n.d.). https://cottonstging.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Cotton_Sustainability_2018_low.pdf.
  7. United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. (2019). 2019 Agricultural Statistics. https://www.nass.usda.gov/ Publications/Ag_Statistics/2019/2019_complete_publication.pdf.
  8. United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (2018). 2018 Irrigation and Water Management Survey. https:// www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/AgCensus/2017/Online_Resources/Farm_and_Ranch_Irrigation_Survey/fris.pdf.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Australian Cotton Sustainability Report 2019: Snapshot . (n.d.). https://www.crdc.com.au/sites/default/files/pdf/Sustainability%20Report%20snapshot.pdf.