The United States is the third-largest cotton producing country in the world, and its cotton quality is highly prized by the textile industry. While American cotton farmers use advanced production methods, they still face sustainability challenges like herbicide resistance, drought, and falling water tables.
In response to demand from our brand members, retailers, suppliers, and interested farmer groups, we launched a Better Cotton pilot project in the United States in 2014. Since then, we have been working closely with the American cotton industry to establish a US Better Cotton supply chain. There are now 76 Better Cotton farmers in six states. Together, they grew 37,000 MT of Better Cotton in 2015—tripling the 2014 US Better Cotton production.
Major merchants are now actively trading US Better Cotton, and many major North American suppliers and manufacturers are joining BCI in response to strong demand from BCI member brands and retailers. (A listing of North American BCI members can be found here).
In 2015, BCI piloted a group assurance model that takes account of advanced US growing practices and a strong national regulatory environment. A group manager—typically from a coop, merchant, gin, or grower association—provides farm-level support, gathers data, conducts farm visits, and coordinates independent 3rd party verification. This new approach ensures the integrity of the Better Cotton Standard System while reducing the cost and administrative burden for farmers. For more information, contact USA Country Manager, Scott.Exo@BetterCotton.org.
Despite having made many advancements over the years, American cotton farmers still face sustainability challenges. In many parts of the US cotton belt, farmers are struggling to manage weeds that have developed resistance to common herbicides, making it necessary to use different materials and/or herbicide rotations to mitigate resistance. California, known for its long-staple varieties, has experienced a multi-year drought, making irrigation water both scarce and costly. In other regions, like West Texas, water tables are falling, compelling farmers to invest in more efficient irrigation methods, or transition to less water-intensive crops. Some Better Cotton farmers are installing drip irrigation, which can reduce irrigation water needs by up to 50%.
BCI’s long-term goals include supporting US farmers in addressing these and other sustainability challenges and improving their performance.
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BENEFITS OF BEING PART OF BETTER COTTON
- Meet a global standard that demonstrates your farm’s commitment to safeguard the environment, and the health and well-being of farmers, farm workers and their communities.
- Join a global effort to protect and improve the long-term viability of the cotton industry.
- Meet rising brand, retailer and consumer expectations for transparency regarding cotton production practices.
BENEFITS FOR US FARMERS
Meeting a global industry standard for sustainability: The Better Cotton standards and criteria are developed and overseen by a multistakeholder body comprised of major retailers and brands, farmers, suppliers and civil society organisations. Currently covering over 1 million growers and over 8% of world production, it is the global industry’s most widely recognised standard for cotton sustainability. This coordinated program includes minimum criteria that all growers must meet to market Better Cotton, as well as improvement criteria that allow growers to benchmark and improve their sustainability performance over time. These real-world benchmarks allow farmers to compare their own operations’ performance – in IPM, soil, water and habitat conservation, for example – to their peers.
The long-term sustainability of the cotton industry: As consumers, retailers and brands demand greater transparency about the sustainability characteristics of what they purchase, participation in BCI can boost cotton’s social and environmental profile. Cotton farmers and their supporting organisations have a vital interest in adopting and promoting sustainable practices to ensure consumer demand for cotton products is not negatively impacted by concerns about how the raw material is produced.
Access to new customers: BCI is supported by some of the strongest brands, retailers and traders in the world: over 500 members from 30 countries were on board by the end of 2014, and membership has been growing 50% per year. Many of these companies are setting aggressive targets for Better Cotton purchases. Being part of BCI gives cotton farmers access to this growing new market and customers. US Cotton growers and suppliers who move quickly to join BCI and grow Better Cotton may gain an initial competitive advantage by being early adopters, and having first access to growing markets for US grown Better Cotton.
Public and investor confidence: Undergoing BCI-licensing demonstrates a farm’s commitment to managing the environmental and social impacts of cotton farming, an increasingly important consideration for bankers and investors which may assist in both capital raising and debt financing. Being BCI-licensed can also enhance the farm’s reputation and help protect against reputational risks.
Whether as an individual farm, or part of a group, the steps for becoming a BCI farmer are similar.
STEP 1: OPT-IN
Simply tell BCI you are interested in becoming licensed, provide a short description of your farm, your cotton acreage, and production estimates for the season. Email: Scott.Exo@BetterCotton.org.
STEP 2: COMPLETE ONLINE SELF-ASSESSMENT
We’ll email you a set of questions about your farm management. Based on the BCI Production Principles & Criteria, questions relate to IPM, labor, soil, habitat, worker safety, and water. It takes about 20-40 minutes to complete.
STEP 3: HOST A VERIFICATION VISIT
Trained 2nd- and 3rd-party verifiers confirm a farm’s compliance with BCI’s minimum criteria, and performance on improvement criteria. 3rd-party costs vary with farm size, travel, and the number of farm audits in an area.
STEP 4: RECEIVE A BETTER COTTON LICENSE
If your farm meets the minimum requirements, you will receive a license to market Better Cotton. Farms enrolling individually receive a 1-, 3- or 5-year license per their scores on the improvement criteria. Group-member farms that meet the minimum requirements typically all receive a 3-year license.
STEP 5: SUBMIT YOUR RESULTS
Within 12 weeks of harvest, submit your final production figures to BCI, with total water, fertilizer and pesticide applications for the season’s cotton crop. Farm data is never shared, published or reported. BCI combines data at the country level only in our harvest reporting, available on our Reports page.