U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol
Published 10 months ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Mark Stebnicki
/ This article is sponsored by
U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.
These types of farming practices will ensure the soil used to grow cotton remains healthy enough to grow the crop year after year.
As more consumers around the globe want to know where their food and clothes
come from, they have been placing a higher value on the manufacturing practices,
materials sourcing and sustainability efforts of brands and retailers. For
fashion, the supply chain can often be complex and opaque, adding to the
difficulty of accurately communicating environmental characteristics of
products. However, earning the trust of consumers will be critical for companies
that want to succeed in a transparent economy.
So where does a fashion brand start to unravel its supply chain? Often at the
farm, where raw materials are sourced. It can feel like a big leap to connect
raw materials and farming practices to our clothing, but making clothes requires
significant amounts of natural resources including water and land to grow
materials such as cotton — the most widely used natural fiber in the world.
In the United States, there are more than 16,000 cotton farms — and many
have worked hard to reduce their environmental footprint. Over the past 35
years, US cotton
has used 79 percent less water and 54 percent less energy, reduced greenhouse
gas emissions by 40 percent and reduced land use by 42 percent. The adoption of
practices such as minimal tillage, GPS and sensor-driven precision agriculture,
and the growing of winter cover
have further improved soil health — reducing loss and erosion by 37 percent per
acre and increasing soil carbon levels.
Continuously improving soil health is critically important for the preservation
of the planet. It’s also the basis of farmers’ livelihoods, which is why there
has been a noticeable shift towards regenerative agriculture
over the last two decades.
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In 2020, the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol was
launched to share the work of US cotton growers with the world, while continuing
to support the US in becoming a world leader in more sustainable cotton.
Trust Protocol growers often use regenerative ag practices to maintain and
further improve soil quality. In addition to minimal tillage and the use of
cover crops, common regenerative practices include rotational farming,
and use of landscape-specific inputs. Over time, regenerative practices can
increase productivity, nourish biodiversity, and naturally reduce the need for
external inputs required for plants.
Additionally, more US cotton growers are setting aside in-field corridors and
buffer zones that border cotton fields to grow back wild with native plants.
These create natural habitats and food sources not just for pollinators and
small birds, but also for larger species such as deer. Implementing field
borders with perennial grasses allows pollinator species to thrive and improves
the habitat quality for adjoining cotton-farmed areas, which also benefits the
crop itself. Typically, growers will set aside land that is less efficient or
with more challenging terrain, which in turn allows them to focus more
efficiently on the most appropriate land for cotton production.
To measure the outcomes of these growing practices, the Trust Protocol tracks
member data on soil conservation and soil carbon, as well as four other
sustainability metrics — water use, GHG emissions, land use and energy use. This
helps them measure their progress and identify opportunities to continuously
improve. In 2021/22, member growers recorded a decrease in soil loss and an
increase in soil carbon when compared to the 2020/21 group of growers. This
year-on-year verified data is shared with Trust Protocol members across the
supply chain and published in its annual
By collecting this data, the Trust Protocol is providing its growers with
self-assessment and benchmarking capabilities to identify areas of improvement
in their operations. For verification processes, all member growers are
automatically placed into a regional producer group. The Trust Protocol then
applies the square-root methodology to determine the number of second- and
third-party verifications for that crop year.
The use of second-party, or desktop, verification creates a more robust and
credible verification cycle and system. Third-party, or onsite visits, are up to
a half-day visit walking through the farm as well as reviewing any additional
paperwork required for the verification of the questionnaire and FPC piece. If
selected, participating in a third-party, independent verification is necessary
for the grower to be considered in compliance with the program and a Trust
Protocol representative will help walk them through the process.
There is opportunity to bring greater transparency to the cotton supply chain as
the Trust Protocol program continues to scale. On September 14th, 2022 the
program was awarded a USDA
— in conjunction with the US Climate Smart Commodity
— to build markets for climate-smart cotton and provide technical and financial
assistance to over 1,000 US cotton farmers to advance adoption of climate-smart
practices on more than one million acres, with a goal of advancing the
production of more than four million bales of Climate Smart Cotton over five
These types of investments in farming practices will ensure the land used to
grow cotton remains healthy enough to grow the crop year after year. By focusing
on sustainable growing practices in cotton farming today, growers can improve
the health of the land for decades to come.
Published Feb 3, 2023 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.