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Over the last few decades, with increased awareness of ecological issues, cotton has become known as a thirsty and chemical intensive crop. Yet how much water is applied and what volume and types of chemicals are used on cotton varies with each growing region, and depends upon a host of considerations such as the farming systems used, resources available, financial considerations and regional policies, to name a few.

Here in California cotton is one of the top 20 most pesticide sprayed crops, and the chemicals used range from fairly benign to highly toxic. These chemicals impact the earth's air, water, and soil as well as the health of the people living in the state's cotton growing areas.

Chemicals to eliminate for 2012 Cleaner Cotton™
PAN Pesticide Database

Cleaner Cotton™
The Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP) partners with conventional growers who recognize the need to reduce chemical use, helping them implement reduced-risk farming methods to minimize this impact. Our Cleaner Cotton™ field program disallows the use of the thirteen most toxic chemicals used on cotton in California (based on toxicity, volume of use and available alternatives), and requires farmers to use biological means to combat pests and pathogens.

Photo Credit: Karina Corbett

Why not organic cotton?
The answer is simple: the cost to grow organic cotton in California is higher than retailers are willing to pay. Studies show that organic cotton fields in California yield 40% less fiber than conventional, and lacking a secure market farmers are unwilling to risk the lower yields and corresponding decrease in financial return.
Since California's organic cotton acreage is minimal (average of less than 200 acres), the chemical reduction corresponding to this acreage is also minimal. Because Cleaner Cotton™ is grown on significantly more acres than organic cotton it  achieves far greater chemical reductions due to its larger scale.

For example:

• In 2007 there were 2 organic cotton farmers growing 240 acres, reducing chemicals by a little over 500 pounds 9

• In contrast, in the same year, there were 22 Cleaner Cotton™ farmers growing 2000 acres, reducing chemicals by about 2000 pounds 10

What can you do?:
- By asking your favorite brand for locally grown Cleaner Cotton™, you can directly influence the type of cotton grown in San Joaquin Valley and help clean up soil air and water in California.
- Contact your favorite company and ask for products made with Cleaner Cotton™
- Advocate for local fiber production. When purchasing cotton, ask where the fiber comes from. How many miles did it travel to arrive here in your hands?
- Check out our fiber footprint calculator
- Educate yourself.  Join us for a SCP Cotton Farm Tour and visit Cleaner Cotton™ farmers in California. Learn about cotton production first hand!
- Write an article in your local newspaper about the importance of Cleaner Cotton™ to your community.


9Estimate based on average of 2.13 pounds of chemicals per acre applied to conventional cotton grown in Fresno, Merced, and Madera Counties where the SCP program is active. California Pesticide Use Reporting data: 2002, 2003, and 2006.

10Estimate based on an average of 1.14 pounds per acre applied by SCP growers in  Fresno, Merced, and Madera Counties. California Pesticide Use Reporting data: 2002,  2003, and 2006.