When it comes to sustainability, the distinction between organic and conventional cotton is often misunderstood or misrepresented.In fact, there is not much difference in planting practice between the two production systems.
One of the main differences between organic and conventional cotton is the source of the seeds and the chemical techniques used to grow and protect the crop.
Organic cotton growers cannot use biotech (genetically modified) seeds and, in most cases, synthetic pesticides cannot be used unless other preferred methods are insufficient to prevent or control target pests 1,7.Technically, organic cotton must be grown on land free of banned substances for three years.In the United States, organic cotton is certified by a third party and certified 2 by the USDA.
Traditional cotton growers have more freedom.They can plant genetically modified or conventionally bred seeds.They can use synthetic or natural nutrients and crop protectants, or a combination of the two.
In addition to the above standards, both traditional and organic cotton growers in the United States are required to comply with Federal regulations and take full advantage of agricultural best management practices.
Does traditional cotton need more water than organic cotton?
In general, more water is not needed.The system of production (organic or traditional) of the crop has no effect on its water demand.The amount of water required depends on the planting area and the specific type of cotton.In addition, both production systems can benefit from soil health practices (regenerative agriculture, use of mulch crops, multi-crop rotation, etc.) that have been shown to significantly improve soil organic matter and water storage capacity 4.
Is the fiber yield of organic cotton comparable to that of conventional cotton?
Organic cotton generally yields less fiber per acre.This is due in large part to the difficulty of controlling large-scale pest and weed growth in compliance with Organic guidelines 6.
Is organic cotton more sustainable than conventional cotton?
It depends on how sustainability is defined and measured.Both organic and conventional cotton have the capacity to reduce certain environmental impacts when produced responsibly.By the standards, however, neither by itself is any more sustainable than the other.
Is pesticides allowed in organic cotton?
Anyway, yes.In the United States, for example, there is an approved list of pesticides for organic production from two synthetic and non-synthetic sources 3.However, the use of insecticides to control target pests is permitted only in cases where other, more preferred methods are insufficient for prevention.Both non-synthetic and synthetic insecticides can be used reasonably, following product usage, to minimize impacts on human health and the environment.These products are essential to reduce other impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption, while also ensuring production to provide enough food and fibre to meet growing global demand.