It’s no secret. I’m an organic cotton fan.
I am such a fan of organic cotton that I work with both the Organic Trade Association and Textile Exchange to promote its production and use. After researching and writing about the problems of conventional cotton production, including the extensive use of pesticides and genetically modified seeds, growing cotton organically just makes sense to me. After all, organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, as well as genetically engineered seed.
The good news? Organic cotton production around the world is on the rise, mostly due to brands increasingly incorporating it into their products as they address their sustainability goals and respond to consumer interest. Some use five percent in a product, others 100 percent. It all adds up to big change.
According to the recent Textile Exchange Organic Cotton Market Report, global production of organic cotton saw impressive growth between 2016/17 and 2017/18, increasing 56 percent to 831,193 bales (180,971 metric tonnes). Organic cotton was planted on 880,018 acres (356,131 hectares), with total volumes reaching the highest level since 2010/11 when the financial crisis led to a dramatic decline.
Nineteen countries produced organic cotton in 2017/18 with the top seven being (in order by rank): India, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Tajikistan, the United States, and Tanzania. In fact, those 7 countries grow 98 percent of the worlds’ organic cotton.
The US ranks in sixth place, with two entities in Texas being the driving force behind the expansion – the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative and the Procot Cooperative, managed by Allenberg Cotton Company. In addition, farmer Dosi Alvarez in New Mexico is one of the few farmers growing organic pima, treasured by the global fashion industry in particular, and in 2017 he even grew colored cotton for the first time since 2011.
Thanks to these farmers, we have apparel, mattresses, and even Tampax® tampons made of US organic cotton.
That’s the good news. The bad news? Organic cotton still only makes up 0.7 percent of global cotton production. Most of the leading brands have turned to the Better Cotton Initiative cotton to meet their “sustainable cotton” goals. However, this program permits genetically engineered seed and all the top ten pesticides used in conventional cotton, including Bayer’s controversial herbicide Roundup®.
To really be the change, brands should take the extra step and commit to purchasing organically grown cotton. Five percent. 100 percent. It all adds up to big change. Let’s get over that one percent mark in 2020.