Utilising Technology to Overcome Cotton Growing Challenges: Q&A with Cotton Australia


Published Wednesday, May 29th, 2019

Cotton growers producing cotton in line with the Australian cotton industry’s myBMP programme have been able to sell their cotton as Better Cotton since 2014, when BCI recognised myBMP as an equivalent sustainability standard. By 2018, Better Cotton represented 22% of Australia’s cotton lint. Here, Brooke Summers, Supply Chain Consultant at Cotton Australia, explains how harmonising the two standards is helping to deliver more sustainable cotton to the world.

  • The amount of cotton produced to the myBMP and Better Cotton Standard increased rapidly in the 2017-18 cotton season (compared to the 2016-17 cotton season). What led to this increase?

BCI’s vision and goals to deliver mainstream sustainable cotton to the world resonate with Australian cotton growers. They’re also getting a strong signal from the market that sustainable cotton is what customers want. This is driving increased participation in the myBMP programme and the number of myBMP accredited farms.

There has been a large rise in myBMP and Better Cotton volumes over the past 12 to 18 months in Australia due to a number of initiatives. For example, the biennial Australian Cotton Conference in August 2018 focused on Better Cotton, myBMP and sustainability. Cotton growers were able to hear from several major clothing brands about their sustainability programmes and ask questions about sourcing more sustainable cotton.

  • What best practices in cotton growing are unique to the Australian landscape?

The Australian cotton industry is innovative and high-tech. The highly variable Australian climate can swing between ‘boom and bust’ cycles year to year, which means that growers have learned to be extremely adaptable and efficient in their practices, particular around water use, integrated pest management and renewable energy. In-crop moisture sensors and automated irrigation systems have allowed the industry to achieve a 40%* improvement in water use efficiency over the past two decades.

High-yielding varieties of cotton (bred specifically for Australian conditions), along with careful management, generate yields three times* the global average with yield increasing steadily. The industry in Australia has also reduced its pesticide use by 92%* in the past 15 years, through improved breeding and agronomy, the use of biotechnology and integrated pest management practices.

In addition, Australian cotton growers are using advanced in-field water monitoring, climate and weather forecasting tools in combination with satellite imagery to inform decisions prior to and throughout the growing season. This technology enables growers to determine the water budget, area of cotton grown, row configuration and irrigation scheduling, helping to ensure the precious water available for irrigation is used as efficiently as possible.

  • Can you tell us more about the demand for more sustainably produced cotton in Australia?

Australian retailers and brands have indicated that consumer desire for sustainably produced goods is one of the factors driving domestic and global demand for Australia’s cotton crop. This sits alongside a growing trend generally in Australia for brands to be more focused on sustainability, supply chain transparency and sustainable cotton sourcing. More and more leading brands are now introducing clothing ranges made entirely from Australian cotton, which have been very popular with customers.

  • How do you envision the future of cotton production in Australia?

In 2019, the first ‘Australian Cotton Industry Sustainability Targets’ will be launched. These sustainability targets will set a challenge for the whole Australian cotton industry to further improve sustainability over the next 10 years. Targets have been set for water and nitrogen use efficiency, carbon footprint, biodiversity and habitat conservation, integrated pest management, and improved work and community standards. The bold targets will only be reached through an intensive, collaborative effort from all industry and external partners.

The myBMP programme continues to expand with more growers than ever before implementing sustainable farming practices. Many of these growers will also opt into BCI and sell their cotton as Better Cotton. We aim for 50% of Australia’s cotton growers to be myBMP accredited and able to participate in the BCI programme by 2023.

Find out more about Cotton Australia.

*Australian Grown Cotton Sustainability Report 2014

© Image credit: Cotton Australia, 2019.