Transforming U.S. Organic Cotton Production

The surge in demand for organic cotton in the United States, coupled with an inadequate domestic supply compensated by imports, prompts a groundbreaking project led by Texas A&M AgriLife Research.

The demand for organic cotton in the United States has surged, highlighting a pressing need for increased domestic production. However, the shortfall in homegrown organic cotton has been compensated by imports.

Addressing this challenge head-on, a pioneering project, “Fostering Sustainable Organic Cotton Production in the U.S. Through Research and Outreach on Organic Regenerative Practices,” led by Texas A&M AgriLife Research, is set to revolutionize the landscape. This transformative endeavor, funded by a substantial $3.5 million USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant, aims to identify and overcome obstacles while maximizing opportunities for U.S. organic cotton growers.

Scaling Up Cotton Research

The research project is poised to be a game-changer, striving to empower U.S. organic cotton producers in enhancing yields, productivity, and sustainability. According to Muthukumar “Muthu” Bagavathiannan, Ph.D., Billie Turner Professor of Production Agronomy at the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, the study will delve into existing cotton production areas, examining the sustainability of operations concerning soil health and economics. The ultimate goal is to facilitate a seamless transition of more acreage into organic production.

Building on insights gained from a prior smaller organic cotton project, the current initiative represents a substantial expansion. Collaborating with esteemed institutions such as Texas Tech University, New Mexico State University, The Soil Health Institute, and others, the research team aims to work closely with producer organizations, the textile industry, and non-profit entities like The Organic Center.

Amber Sciligo, Ph.D., Director of Science Programs at The Organic Center, emphasizes the significance of overcoming challenges. She mentions that the project is vital for increasing the success and growth of domestic cotton. It reduces dependence on imports to meet domestic demand.

Understanding Organic Cotton Production

While Texas leads in U.S. organic cotton production, long-term practices affecting soil health, especially microbial dynamics, remain unclear to farmers. Bagavathiannan stresses the importance of comprehending the challenges faced by existing cotton producers. The study will investigate current practices without imposing changes, seeking to identify effective management strategies and potential areas of improvement.

Given the restrictions on synthetic herbicides, the project will explore alternative methods to minimize tillage for weed control. Nithya Rajan, Ph.D., AgriLife Research Crop Physiologist/Agroecologist, highlights the potential benefits of tapping into the growing carbon market. They represent additional revenue and emphasize the need to minimize greenhouse gas emissions.

The project brings together a multi-state, multi-institutional team representing diverse expertise in biophysical and socio-economic sciences. Collaboration with producer organizations and engagement with the Soil Health Institute provide valuable insights. These include the impact of transitioning from synthetic chemicals to organic practices on soil microbes.

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