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April 4, 2022

Better Cotton plans drive to speed up soil regeneration

Global non-profit organisation Better Cotton says enhanced education programmes are the answer to increase soil health, reduce pesticide use and increase yields, as climate change increases pressure on agriculture and farming.

By Fi Forrest

“Regenerative agriculture is not a one-trick pony. Improvements to soil health, habitat protection, and water systems are just some of the environmental benefits it delivers,” says Alan McClay, CEO Better Cotton, which recently announced its 2030 Strategy, which includes five impact target areas and a climate approach.  

Better Cotton, which is a global sustainability initiative for cotton, says soil health, helping to re-balance its chemistry, structure, biology, organic content and ability to retain water is one of the impact target areas. 

Better Cotton plans to speed up the regeneration of soil in cotton farming and, within the Better Cotton network, raise awareness of the importance of soil health through education programmes and specifically helping farmers to: 

  • Achieve better yields by improving the soil structure – tilling the soil less and planting cover crops helps to protect the fragile underground ecosystem and feeds the land for the next cotton planting – it prevents erosion, limits weeds, controls pests and diseases. 
  • Reducing reliance on harmful pesticides by teaching techniques like crop rotation, using biopesticides made with ingredients found in nature and encouraging bird and bat species that act as predators to cotton pests. 

Alan McClay, CEO Better Cotton, says, “Farmers won’t transition from what they know on the basis of anecdotes and promises. Hard evidence is required. And, for that, investment in monitoring and data research is needed. Not only is the unsustainability of today’s intensive, input-heavy farming increasingly well understood, so too is the contribution that regenerative models can make to turning this around. The challenge going forward is to turn growing awareness into on-the-ground action. The issues that regenerative farming seek to address are urgent. At Better Cotton, we’re big believers in continuous improvement. Rule No.1? Get out of the blocks and get started.” 

Teaching many of these techniques can also increase the availability of nutrients and water to crops, and by reducing pests and weeds cut labour costs. This requires the adoption of what is termed Regenerative Agriculture related to practices that promote soil health and restore organic carbon in the soil. These practices may include reducing tilling (no-till or low-till), use of cover crops, complex crop rotation, rotating livestock with crops and avoiding or minimising the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides — practices that have the potential to turn agricultural soil into a net carbon sink.

Better Cotton’s efforts are already taking effect it says. In the 2018-19 cotton season, Better Cotton say its farmers used less pesticide than other farmers – in Tajikistan, farmers used 38% less, in India, farmers used biopesticides 6% more, while in China, they used organic fertiliser 10% more. By the end of 2022, Better Cotton will set targets for soil health which will be supported by tangible indicators to measure progress. 

One Indian farmer, Vinodbhai Patel, who became a Better Cotton farmer in 2016, says he has been impressed by the results of the initiatives. By 2018, using non-chemical fertiliser in combination with planting his cotton more densely, helped him reduce his pesticide costs by 80%, increase his overall production by over 100%, and his profit by 200%. Patel said: “Just three years ago, the soil on my farm was so degraded, I could hardly find any earthworms in the soil. Now I can see many more earthworms which suggests my soil is recovering, and my soil tests show that nutrient levels have increased.” 

Better Cotton recently announced some revisions will be made to its Better Cotton Standard in a bid to strengthen the Better Cotton Principles and criteria and ensure best practice is met in line with the initiative’s 2030 Strategy. 

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