The old adage in farming, “It all starts with the soil,” can also stand true for much of the apparel supply chain.
It’s certainly a key part of the motivation for the Soil Health Institute (SHI) launching “Healthy Soils for Sustainable Cotton.”
The ongoing engagement project from SHI, a nonprofit organization charged with safeguarding and enhancing soil health, aims to help U.S. cotton farmers increase soil health on their farms. In addition, the project will seek to quantify and expand the productivity, economic and environmental benefits of soil health systems for those farmers.
“Healthy Soils for Sustainable Cotton” is supported by funding from the Wrangler brand, the VF Corp. Foundation and the Walmart Foundation. The initial pilot program set for this year will include cotton producers in Arkansas, Georgia and North Carolina, according to Cristine Morgan, SHI chief scientific officer.
“This farmer-focused education and training program will be developed and delivered by a qualified team comprised of technical specialists and successful cotton farmers,” Morgan said. “In 2020, the program will expand to Mississippi, Texas and California. Cotton producers who successfully complete the program will gain knowledge in soil health systems and become part of a network of farmers interested in increasing sustainability of cotton production.”
Project manager David Lamm said the project will identify farmers in each state who are successfully adopting soil health systems. These farmers will offer insights into their soil health systems and mentor others who participate in the training program.
In addition, a local Soil Health technical specialist will help conduct farmer training and provide continuous technical support over at least the next two years. Participating farmers will learn how to evaluate the health of their soils and ways to improve soil health leading to greater environmental sustainability. Scientists from SHI will assist growers in assessing and improving areas such as drought resilience, economic benefits and environmental outcomes of their practices.
Last year, Wrangler awarded the first Next Generation Land Stewardship scholarship to Jacob Sykes, an agriculture production major with a concentration in environmental and natural resources at Mount Olive University in North Carolina. The denim brand also committed to a demonstration farm-training program with the North Carolina Foundation for Soil and Water Conservation to support farmers dedicated to advancing sustainable agriculture practices.
Wrangler also joined with MyFrams to bring greater sustainability to cotton farming by offering access to data to advance common goals shared by growers, brands and other links in the supply chain.
“Farmers work diligently to bring a cotton crop to harvest each year and their challenges are many,” Roian Atwood, sustainability director for Wrangler, said. “As an apparel manufacturer, Wrangler wants to improve the environmental performance of our products. But to ask growers to make an additional effort to track and share farm-level data, we need to try to create something of value for them in return. That’s what we’re attempting to do with the MyFarms software.”