Monday, December 18, 2017

Brands, Consumers Driving Force Behind Sustainable Practices in Cotton

For several years, we’ve written a lot about how a small group of innovative cotton growers in the Valley have led the way in sustainable farming practices. 

Slowly but surely their support and advocacy is catching on. Just look at some of the headlines:
“Millennials Driving Brands to Practice Socially Responsible Marketing” – in March 2017.

“Sustainable Style: Will Gen Z Help the Fashion Industry Clean Up its Act?” – The U.S. edition of The Guardian of Britain on April 2017.

“How Clothing Brands are Embracing Transparency to Meet the Growing Demand for Sustainable Apparel” – Adweek in May 2017.

This trend is taking off and becoming a driving force in getting cotton growers to embrace sustainable farming practices, according Stephen Harmer, of Jess Smith & Sons Cotton, a Bakersfield cotton marketer.

Stephen Harmer of Jess Smith & Sons discusses sustainability.
“There is this huge shift going on,” Stephen told a group of fashion brand representatives attending this fall’s Cotton Farm Tour sponsored by the Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP). 

The 75.4 million millennials – the up and coming generation ages 20 to 36 – are behind this dynamic market trend.

Cotton bales are ready to be shipped to a warehouse.
“They want to see a sustainable product that they are purchasing. They want to see traceability. We see more demand for sustainable fiber, whether it is organic, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) cotton or Cleaner Cotton™. “More and more you are seeing sustainable products that are traced all the way back to the farmer. That is very common now. I think it will continue to grow.”

Gins use bale tags identifies the source of the cotton.
SCP has a long track record working with Valley growers to produce trademarked Cleaner Cotton™. SCP works with growers to follow best management practices and avoid using the most toxic chemicals used to produce their cotton crop. 
BCI is a global program in which growers adhere to various sustainable standards. Only SCP’s Cleaner Cotton™ can be traced back to the grower.

Jess Smith sells the growers’ cotton directly to textile mills, which allows the marketer to generate premiums for the farmer as well as provide assurance the fiber has been grown sustainably and can betraced back to the farm. The company markets both Cleaner Cotton™ and BCI cotton as well as conventional cotton.  
Dan McCurdy is a Cleaner Cotton and BCI grower.

Another selling point: The Valley’s reputation for growing some of the highest quality cotton in the world.  “Cotton is the longest and stronger fiber in the entire world. It is by far the most sustainable crop in the entire world.”

North Face's Backyard Hoodie made with Cleaner Cotton.
Stephen predicts China will become a bigger buyer of cotton in the coming years. China, he says, “is very pro U.S. cotton. They want to buy high quality, traceable, machine picked good quality cotton fiber, which primarily is grown in the USA, Brazil and Australia. We have a very positive outlook for cotton in the next three to five years.”

“BCI and Cleaner Cotton™ are becoming much more popular in the market,” Stephen says. “It is being driven by the brands and the consumers that are looking for the sustainable product.”
Because of this consumer trend, Stephen anticipates more conventional cotton growers turning to sustainable cotton production practices.

“You get a little push back from some (growers),” he said. But he adds that “a lot of them are smart enough to know if the brands and the consumer are pushing for this then they eventually are going to jump on board. The whole industry is really turning in a good direction.”

(Season’s Greetings from the Central Valley Farm Scout. We’re taking a break for the holidays and will be back and better than ever after the New Year.)

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