BCI has completed a small scale pilot of its standard system in the USA during 2014. Twenty-two farms in four states (Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico and California) took part in the pilot project, and together produced over 11,000 metric tons (26 million lbs) of cotton lint. The farms each completed a self-assessment and hosted an on-farm visit by independent, 3rd party verifiers to confirm they meet BCI’s criteria for environmental stewardship and working conditions. All participants who completed the process are now licensed to sell Better Cotton to participating merchants.
Cheryl Luther of Black Oak Gin in northeastern Arkansas guided three farmers through the licensing process. She said “I was skeptical at first. I’ve been a sustainability proponent for years, and I understood the brands want transparency and verification, but I thought the process and paperwork would be a burden. In the end, though, it was simple and easy to gather.” One of the three Black Oak growers, Danny Qualls of Lake City, Arkansas said,” I love growing cotton, but the market needs more innovative ideas like BCI.”
Cannon Michael, owner of Bowles Farming Company in California’s San Joaquin Valley, said, “We take pride in the way we treat our employees, care for the environment and strive to improve. I think this opportunity to ‘prove up’ against independent standards and verification is good for us and our customers.” Bowles is one of six participating farms that are members of Supima, the US pima cotton marketing association. Supima president Jesse Curlee echoed Michael’s sentiments saying, “We’re on board for very practical business reasons. British retailer Marks & Spencer is a key customer for us. They’re also a BCI member and sourcing Better Cotton is a key component of their corporate sustainability strategy.”
CEO of BCI Patrick Laine added, “We’re delighted with the collaboration and efforts of cotton growers in the US to bring US Better Cotton to the supply chain. This responds to a request of many global brands. The first volumes of US Better Cotton to reach the market were purchased immediately – and we intend to satisfy that demand in coming years by expanding the supply of US Better Cotton.This is an extremely positive start, and we look forward to working with more USA farmers on continually improving practices that are directly relevant to their businesses.”
In West Texas, twelve members of the Hart Producers Coop Gin participated in the project. Gin Manager Todd Straley said, ‘We see this as a great way to stay ahead of the curve, being responsive to changing market expectations and demonstrating our growers’ commitment to sustainability and continual improvement.”
BCI has been working in other cotton growing regions of the world since 2010 to promote measurable and continuing improvements for the environment, farming communities, and their economies. Last year, spurred by strong interest from major brands and retailers using Better Cotton as a supply benchmark, we chose to expand our focus to include the US.
BCI will convene a multi-stakeholder process early in the new year to review the lessons learned during the pilot, and receive feedback from all parties engaged in this project or interested in BCI’s development.