It takes a lot of pesticides to grow conventional cotton: About 6 pounds per acre of weed-killer, and another 4.5 pounds of insect killer are used on every acre, about 3-5 times as much as is used on a typical corn field.
Organic cotton, though, can sell for a premium, making it worth the while of cotton growers who want to forgo the use of harsh chemicals. The problem is that to be certified as an organic grower, you need to have been using organic methods for three seasons before you can label and market your cotton. That three-year gap has been enough to keep some farmers from making the conversion.
But Wal-Mart has stepped in to support the growth of the organic cotton industry by agreeing to purchase so-called "transitional" cotton for the price of organic cotton, according to Reuters.
"To encourage farmers to switch to organic cotton farming, Wal-Mart said it purchased more than 12 million pounds of transitional cotton from approximately 1,000 farmers at the same premium cost of certified organic cotton," Reuters reports.
Farmers planted 6,786 acres of organic cotton in 2007, up 14% from 2006, according to a recent Organic Trade Association survey. And farmers in the six states surveyed California, Arizona, Missourri, New Mexico, Tennessee and Texas expect 2008 plantings to increase another 13%.
Though the organic fiber industry is increasing, organic upland and pima cottons still represent just a fraction of 1% of all cotton planted in the United States, where farmers planned to plant 13.2 million acres of cotton in 2007, according to the National Cotton Council of America. And more and more of that crop 87% in 2007 is grown genetically modified seeds, according to the USDA. (USDA-certified organic products cannot be derived from genetically modified seeds.)
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