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Soil Health: 4 Findings All Cotton Producers Need to Know


High quality cotton comes from high quality soil. That’s why Wrangler, known worldwide for their denim clothing, is teaming with producers to improve the health of agricultural soils.

Cotton grown using soil health practices in North Carolina.  Photo by Curtis Furr.

Cotton grown using soil health practices in North Carolina.  Photo by Curtis Furr.

Cotton and Soil Health

Last year, U.S. farmers grew roughly 16 percent of the world’s cotton supply.

A growing number of cotton farmers are adopting soil health practices across their operations. For them, conventional tillage and single-species crop production are giving way to reduced tillage and cover crops. These practices can improve soil health while increasing profit margins.

Private Sector Leadership

Wrangler is taking a strong leadership role in working with cotton suppliers to promote soil health. Why? Their message is clear: “At Wrangler, our supply chain doesn’t begin with fabric or cotton. It begins with the land itself.”

Through collaboration with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy and the Soil Health Institute, Wrangler has created “Seeding Soil’s Potential,” a new report that focuses on strategies for cotton production that maximize both environmental and economic value.

Here are four findings from the report that cotton producers – and really all farmers – need to know:

1. Soil health practices can improve your bottom line.

Cotton farmers who cut back on tillage can expect to save on fuel and labor costs by reducing passes over their fields. They can also lower herbicide use by planting weed-suppressing cover crops. Cover crops provide nutrients to the soil and reduce fertilizer use. Finally, soil health practices often lead to improved yields.

2. Soil health practices – particularly cover crops – can improve crop resilience.

The roots of cover crops create channels in the soil that increase the infiltration of water into the soil, thereby reducing the amount of water lost as runoff. Particularly in times of drought, this can lead to more resilient fields that grow healthy plants for longer and require less irrigation than conventionally-managed fields.

3. Soil health management principles can be adapted to fit your specific goals and needs.

A cotton grower in Georgia might rotate cotton with peanuts, while a cotton grower in Texas might rotate cotton with wheat. Adopting soil health practices could benefit both farmers by improving yields and increasing the amount of organic carbon in their soils. Farmers across the country should feel empowered to take the basic principles of soil health and adjust them to fit the needs of their operation.

4. Soil health practices can improve your soil’s rate of carbon sequestration.

Farmers who adopt soil health practices are part of the solution in managing greenhouse gas emissions. Based on results from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, Wrangler reports that soil health practices can substantially increase the amount of carbon sequestered in cropland soils.

Sustainability and Profitability

In 2017, farmers in the United States grew roughly 16 percent of the world’s cotton. Cotton is largely grown across the southern portion of the country. USDA photo.

In 2017, farmers in the United States grew roughly 16 percent of the world’s cotton. Cotton is largely grown across the southern portion of the country. USDA photo.

Wrangler’s new report highlights a very important fact for farmers thinking about adopting soil health management practices: sustainability and profitability often go hand in hand.

Learn more about the economics of no-till by reading the USDA blog, Saving Money, Time and Soil: The Economics of No-Till Farming. Visit the NRCS website to find out how voluntary conservation programs can benefit the natural resources on your operation.