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Soil Health

Preserving Water Quality Preserves Our Future

Most crops need fresh water to grow. While 70% of our planet is covered by water1 only 2% of that water is fresh.2 With nearly half the global population living in potentially water scarce areas, maintaining and preserving quality freshwater resources remains a global priority.3

One of the leading surface water impacts in the U.S. is from sediment.4 Agriculture can contribute to this sedimentation if conventional tillage is used. Researchers predict that more than 30 billion U.S. tons of soil will be lost annually if conventional tillage continues on a global scale.5 Thankfully this is not the case with conservation tillage gaining ground across the globe. In the U.S., 64% of cotton producers implemented conservation tillage practices to keep soil and nutrients on their fields.6 Additionally, the U.S. has set 10-year science-based sustainability goals including a 50% reduction in soil loss by 2025.

Conservation Tillage Protects Soil and Water

Conservation tillage methods vary, but all of them involve planting systems that cover 30 percent or more of the soil’s surface with crop residue after planting to reduce soil erosion by water.7 This practice has a clear and positive effect on both surface water and ground water.8 Together, cover crops and conservation tillage practices help to reduce erosion, runoff and soil compaction, and lower the risk of agricultural runoff reaching waterways. At the same time, growers are working to further reduce and manage their use of agricultural inputs that can affect water quality such as pesticides and fertilizers.

Research and Development of Conservation Practices

The cotton industry is committed to researching and developing scientific data to support pathways to achieve positive environmental outcomes, especially for water quality. Several research teams have designed field-level studies to evaluate conservation systems and how those systems can have positive impacts on surface water quality. Recent projects have focused on how conservation tillage, crop rotations, cover cropping, and precision irrigation can be used to improve water quality outcomes. Two ongoing research projects in the mid-south region seek to quantify these water quality outcomes with real surface water quality samples that are collected at key cotton production stages throughout the year. These long-term studies will provide data for growers to implement best management practices to enhance water quality.9,10


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. U.S. Geological Survey. (1993). How Much Water Is There on, in, and above the Earth? https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/how-much-water-there-earth.
  2. M.S. Zaman and Robert Sizemore, “Freshwater Resources Could Become the Most Critical Factor in the Future of the Earth,” Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences 62, no. 4 (October 2017): pp. 348-352, https://doi.org/10.31753/6204-348.
  3. UN-Water. (2021). Scarcity: UN-Water. https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/scarcity/.
  4. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2016). National Summary of State Information: National Summary Causes of Impairment in Assessed Rivers and Streams. https://ofmpub.epa.gov/waters10/attains_nation_cy.control#main-content.
  5. ScienceDaily. (2020). Climate Change and Land Use Are Accelerating Soil Erosion by Water. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/08/200824165633.htm.
  6. 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.
  7. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. (2020). Conservation Tillage Systems in the Southeast: Production, Profitability, and Stewardship. 1-310. https://www.sare.org/wp-content/uploads/Conservation-Tillage-Systems-in-the-Southeast_compressed.pdf.
  8. Amini, Sherwin & Asoodar, Mohammad Amin & Asoodar. (2013). The Effect Of Conservation Tillage On Environment, Weather And Water Pollution (The Review). Intl J Agri Crop Sci. Vol., 7 (6), 315-321.
  9. USDA-ARS (2021). Delta Water Management Research: Improving Conservation Management Practices for Sustainable Production in the Lower Mississippi River Basin. https://www.ars.usda.gov/research/project/?accnNo=418988.
  10. Mississippi State University (2021). EXAMINING AND DEVELOPING SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION SYSTEMS IN COTTON TO IMPROVE WATER RESOURCES IN THE MID-SOUTHERN USA. https://www.ncaar.msstate.edu/research/research-detail.php?id=18.