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Organic Cotton Market has Growth Potential in USA

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They’re creating the greenest sort of Made-in-the-USA product that you may have never heard of yet. Did you know America’s organic cotton farmers are the world’s 5th largest supplier of that raw material? Centralized mainly in Texas, a few dozen farmers are growing an estimated 16,000 acres in organic cotton this year.

Woman running through field of organic cotton in shirt and blue jeans.

Courtesy: Jen Jones/Textile Exchange

“The demand for their organic cotton is growing,” said European Farm Engagement Director Liesl Truscott of the Textile Exchange about USA farmers. “It’s supply that is not keeping up.  There is also a need to better understand how to reward farmers for their investment in organic – to keep them interest.” You might find it in the poshest baby products or premium t-shirts or even jeans. While USA-grown organic cotton has often been exported for use outside the country, a renewed interest in local and USA-made products gives American consumers a chance to support their own farmers once again.

The Textile Exchange works globally to encourage sustainable textile practices, with organic growing methods being the gold standard for managing ecosystems while protecting farmers and restoring economies.  A distinct difference between conventional cotton growing and organic is a management system that supports healthier farmland without the most toxic pesticides.

In the latest Farm & Fiber report, the Textile Exchange writes:

“The use of pesticides poses health risks to workers; to organisms in the soil; to migratory
species such as insects, birds, and mammals; and to downstream freshwater species. Research
on the cause of fish deaths in the United States showed that pesticides, even used with the
proper application, harm freshwater ecosystems.” (data from World Wildlife Fund)

Truscott explained, “The land management that organic farmers invest in is in conducive to better use of water as well as cleaner water runoff.”  (see Water Footprint report) Organic farmers in the US use cover crops, rotations, natural fertilizers, integrated pest management and only USDA Organic approved inputs when growing cotton.  They cooperate in a system that allows traceability of cotton fibers back to specific farms.  Contrary to conventional thinking, organic growing can be competitive.

With organic as the top standard, several other efforts around the globe are striving for more sustainability, and the Textile Exchange also encourages those.  Some, although not using all organic practices, operate without genetically modified seeds and allow a limited set of pesticide inputs.  There is also focus on fair wages and building stronger communities.  Cotton farming is mostly in developing countries, with China and India being global leaders.

The Textile Exchange mission involves supporting healthier communities around the globe.  Added Truscott, “We need to move away from this very disposable, careless approach to our clothes, to better respect where the fiber comes from, the impact it has on our environment and the rural communities behind it.

Texas farmers in particular have endured some extreme drought, bouncing back after especially dry conditions in 2011.  Globally, Textile Exchange says the organic cotton market has grown, shrunk a bit, and now stabilized as demand increases.

Truscott says if we want to see even more availability and price choice in organic cotton, we need to buy it and ask for it more often. She added, “I feel hugely optimistic about the future of organic.  It’s a future-smart mode of production!”

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