Conservation-tillage also helps reduce soil surface evaporation and promotes root growth near the soil surface. The practice also “slightly increases” water holding capacity and may expand root growth.

Managing glyphosate resistant weeds has been a challenging undertaking, Hake said, but industry, universities and growers have made progress. “We had a huge effort in the Southeast and Mid-South and by 2012 the area was relatively clean. However, now some 40 percent of High Plains cotton fields have glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth. But we know we have the tools available to control it.”

Hake said nematode management will be another key area of concern. “Recent sequencing of the cotton plant genome offers a useful tool to improve plants.”

Sustainability throughout the cotton production cycle — from field to fabric and other products made from cotton — is a key issue for Cotton Incorporated as it answers charges that cotton is not an environmentally friendly crop. “The anti-cotton forces are engaging with consumers,” he said.

Water will be a key issue in cotton and textiles. Claims that cotton caused the Dust Bowl and other disasters are not based on fact, he said. “We have been attacked for water loss through evaporation. In fact, we can show that for the last 30 years we have seen a vast improvement in water efficiency with cotton. The footprint of cotton production is steadily decreasing. Soil erosion and land use are both down. And we use 75 percent less irrigation water. But water metrics will remain a battlefield.”

Hake said level of irrigation will be a key to cotton water use. In much of West Texas, irrigation is supplemental to a typical 10-inch total annual rainfall. Irrigating to 20 inches may not always be possible with stricter water-use limitations. More water-efficient varieties may offer a solution.

U.S. cotton production also has significantly reduced the amount of field labor required to make a crop. Current rate is 1 hour per acre per year to raise a cotton crop. In India, that rate is 570 hours per acre per year and in China it’s 985.

Fertilizer is another sustainability issue with concerns about manufacturing emissions and contamination to groundwater and streams.

The global ag industry is concerned about“global yield stagnation,” especially with corn and soybeans. 

Cotton also plays a role in food production. “We get 1.4 pounds of food product for every 1 pound of fiber we produce,” he said. Cottonseed is used for livestock feed as well as for cooking oil for human consumption.

Recent development of flavored cottonseed oil shows promise of increased demand. “We are also promoting cottonseed for dairies and have developed a new marketing program.” That program links dairymen directly with cottonseed suppliers.

Hake said cottonseed prices have been penalized in relation to its value as a feed. “Targeted marketing has turned the tide,” he said.


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