Cotton USA: Changing water use with data

Water is a precious resource; one Cotton USA is committed to protecting and preserving for future generations.

You will probably have heard that cotton is a water-intensive crop. For U.S. cotton, this is changing. Thanks to technological breakthroughs in the way they grow cotton in the U.S., and the collective actions of U.S. cotton growers over many years, the amount of water used to grow cotton has reduced 82% since the 1980s.

Did you know that two thirds of U.S. cotton fields require no irrigation at all? They make the most of the rainwater that hydrates the Cotton Belt each year. Technology has played a large part in powering these improvements. Across the U.S., growers employ tools such as computer-driven moisture sensors or evapotranspiration weather stations to effectively monitor the water level of the soil. In the past, we had to irrigate regularly with little proof of impact; now fields are irrigated only when the technology deems it efficient.

They are not about to stop here, however. They will continue to invest in decreasing the water we use. Later this year, the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol will launch. The Trust Protocol creates a new standard for the cotton industry and commits cotton growers to continuous improvements on many accounts (not just water). A defining feature of this new sustainability protocol will be to provide access to insightful data points to U.S. growers who will use this data to learn from each other and improve, as well as brands and retailers who want assurances about the sustainability of the cotton they buy.

Propelled by the findings of the new data, growers will have a greater understanding of where and how they can drive efficiencies and further reduce their use of irrigation. It’s incredibly hard to change things which are not measured, so one of the aims of the Trust Protocol is to enable growers to measure their processes and adjust accordingly. Attached to the Trust Protocol is an ambitious target to increase the water efficiency of cotton (more fiber per gallon of water) by 18% over the next 5 years alone – a target we intend to make possible by empowering growers through data.


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