Farmers formed the core of the Sustainable Cotton Project by committing their land, time and resources to creating a more sustainable way of farming cotton. With support from SCP and University of California's cotton, water and entomology specialists, growers were able to successfully farm quality cotton with fewer chemical inputs, allowing growers to save money and time while reducing the impacts of cotton farming on their land.

Windfall Farms growers Mark Fickett and Frank Williams speak with participants on the SCP Cotton Farm Tour.
Enrolling a field in the project allowed farmers to have direct access to the experts they needed, provided a weekly field report of both pests and beneficial insects found in their field and facilitated a grower to grower exchange of information through field days, newsletters, weekly blog posts and sharing field data.

Many enrolled farmers found that the practices they used on their cotton were also easily applied to the other crops they grew like melons, tomatoes, tree crops and other vegetables.



FARMER TESTIMONIALS

 
SCP Mentor grower and innovative farmer John Teixeira at a cotton field.
"Networking. Being able to hear what other growers are using or doing, listening to scouts talk about what they are seeing, new innovations, technology being brought forward, etc. Having access to PhDs and knowledgeable staff to help guide me through thought processes. It's as if I have cheerleaders rooting for me."

"One of the many valuable assets for me has been the grower meetings. The ability to network with other growers and compare practices is priceless."

SCP owes its success to these farmers and wholeheartedly promoted the Cleaner Cotton™ they grew along with the farmers who were making a difference in California's Central Valley.

The Cleaner Cotton™ Field Program worked with small and medium sized conventional cotton farmers interested in reducing chemical use and implementing more biologically based management practices.

Joe Del Bosque, SCP grower and mentor farmer shows off his cotton and adjoining annual hedgerow.
Jeff Mitchell, University of California Cooperative Extension Cropping Systems Specialist speaks with cotton growers about the importance of soil health at an SCP field day.

The goal was to produce high-quality fiber while minimizing the chemical impact on our air, water, soil and human health. Key components included use of:

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
  • Viewing the farm as a whole system.
  • Using biological controls as the first line of defense.
  • Reduced-risk chemicals used to control pest outbreaks to prevent economic losses.
  •  
    Monitoring
  • Project field scout monitored weekly for both pest and beneficial insect populations.
  • Monitoring results supported the role of biological controls in crop protection.
  • Planted beneficial insect habitat and released beneficial insects when needed.
  •  
    Farmer-to-Farmer
  • SCP Growers were mentors to their peers.
  • SCP facilitated information sharing among Cleaner Cotton™ growers.
  •  
    Field Demonstrations
  • Regular field days and mentor programs guided and educated growers making the transition to Cleaner Cotton™ growing practices.
  • Field days demonstrated methods to improve soil quality and plant health and pest management techniques.
  •  
    Proven Methods
  • SCP collaborated with University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management and UC Cooperation Extension to implement practical and proven sustainable farming practices.
  • Growers received direct support from UC IPM and UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisors to help them make informed decisions and utilize the latest technology and management practices.
  • Mentor growers and longtime SCP supporters Gary and Mari Martin.

    What is Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?
    IPM follows an environmental approach by focusing on long-term prevention of pests through a combination of biological control, habitat manipulation and modification of cultural practices. Pesticides are used only after monitoring and established guidelines indicate pests exceed acceptable levels. Pest control materials are selected and applied to minimize the impact on the public health, environment and non-targeted organisms.

    What is Cleaner Cotton™?
    SCP growers produced Cleaner Cotton™. A high quality fiber grown in a more biological manner and produced without the most harmful chemicals used in conventional production. Production methods were documented and verified by the grower and SCP. Cleaner Cotton™ can be either acala or pima varieties.

    SCP field scout uses sweep net to capture insects in the cotton field.
    Dan McCurdy, D&V McCurdy Farms shows his field to participants at an SCP Cotton Field Day.

    Farm Size
    Farms today are fewer and bigger. According to the United States Department of Agriculture the amount of land used for crops, pastures or grazing declined from 1 million acres—to 910 million acres—from 2016 to 2017 alone. While the average farm size has been increasing, the number of farms is decreasing. After peaking at 6.8 million farms in 1935, the number of U.S. farms fell sharply until the early 1970s. Rapidly falling farm numbers during the earlier period reflected growing productivity in agriculture and increased nonfarm employment opportunities. Since then, the number of U.S. farms has continued to decline, but much more slowly. In the most recent survey, there were 2.02 million U.S. farms in 2019, down from 2.20 million in 2007.

    Lease or Purchase
    With land costs increasing in California, many Central Valley farmers own some land but may lease much of their farmland used for crop production. This allows for flexibility to adjust their farm size as conditions warrant, but can increase the uncertainty about future farming and may limit loan funding since the land is not owned. Leased land may come with restrictions, but leasing can free up capital for new equipment, production and marketing costs.

    Ag Loans
    Agricultural loans provide credit flow for the smooth functioning of the farming sector in the country. It is common agricultural practice that farmers secure a crop loan at the start of each season. It can be difficult to keep up with all of the costs associated with running a farm, so farmers need low-interest agricultural loans to help them stay afloat until crop revenues are received. Farmers also have access to financial aids such as crop insurance and subsidies that provide protection to the farmer in the event of damage to crops due to weather conditions or other factors.