California cotton farms produced 439 million pounds of fiber in 2019, including 90% of the extra-long staple cotton grown in the United States. These farming systems face increasing pressure from water scarcity and severe weather due to climate change and significant soil organic matter losses resulting from conventional farming practices. California-based textile brands have largely sourced cotton outside of the region. Redirected into regional systems, purchasing power and strategic support from these brands could catalyze significant landscape transformation in the California cotton industry.
For over ten years, the nonprofit Fibershed has built relationships with cotton growers, technical advisors, researchers, and textile brands, and is now addressing simultaneous needs for regional on-farm trials and refinements to practices, expert technical assistance, and farm-centered market development. With this grounded approach, farmers can receive help making a supported transition to new systems of production agriculture that are biodiverse, maintain year-round living plant cover on the soil, reduce or eliminate harmful synthetic agrochemicals, and maximize soil carbon gains and agroecosystem function.
The goal of this project is to achieve and document success in the conversion of a pilot of 156 acres of land in California’s Central Valley in cotton systems to regenerative agriculture practices that build soil health, increase biodiversity, protect water resources, and sequester carbon. These are crop production systems that typically include rotations of tomatoes, wheat, alfalfa, and other food crops.
Fibershed partnerships support California farms transitioning to agricultural practices that build soil and ecosystem health include technical advising and farming trials to refine regionally specific regenerative farm practices.
This project will benefit the longevity and health of agroecosystems across California’s Central Valley. The products of these farming systems include both fiber and food that supplies major grocery outlets across the region, and the hope is that a transition to regenerative practices will improve the quality of life for all inhabitants of our agricultural communities who are currently impacted by agricultural airborne particulate matter, poor water quality, water shortages and exposure to agricultural chemicals.
Cultivating relationships between farmers, processors, and brand partners will create new opportunities for textile brands to source raw material from California cotton farms engaging with regenerative farming practices.
Fibershed is establishing a new economic vision based on land stewardship - from farming through fiber processing, manufacturing, and marketing to consumers. A related goal is the development of supportive markets to empower and facilitate this conversion within domestic manufacturing systems that reduce carbon emissions across the entire supply chain.