Interesting question, and one which deserves to be addressed in today’s world of climate change and debate about appropriate methods of discussing potential environmental needs. Is cotton farming harmful to the soil? Perhaps, if it isn’t done properly, but then again no, it isn’t harmful when farmed responsibly. That’s the short answer if that’s all you need to buy products such as t-shirts, undergarments, or car tires, the cotton you’re using isn’t harming the soil. A better explanation of the topic follows below:
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A casual way to say, is that cotton slurps up a bunch of water. A more formal means of expressing the same sentiment is, cotton slurps up a bunch of water. Cotton crops require regular irrigation to maintain and produce the amount of fiber and oil needed to justify the time and labor which goes into growing and harvesting the plant. Compared to vegetables or flowers, cotton needs water to thrive, and much more water than the layman might expect for a plant. The need isn’t much of an issue in tropical climates or the humidity of the United States Southeast, but does become a consideration in desert areas in which water can be scarce even though such areas have the heat and sunlight for great quality cotton to grow.
Toxins and Pesticides
It’s understandable how the use of pesticides, fungicides, and other toxins used to protect or fertilize crops are used for cotton fields as well. Genetic engineering has allowed for the development of new strains of cotton which require less use of fungicides and insecticides, and that’s a step in the right direction, but the technology isn’t developed enough to grow clean crops without the use of chemical additives to the soil. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; scientists simply don’t know what the long-term effects of such practices might be. Based on previous experiences, it’s not going to be good in the long run. Along with the consideration of how much water cotton needs, there is going to be excess runoff in which those chemicals go back to the local water supply.
Areas of Cotton Growth
The Americas are where cotton growth first led to the use of cotton for everyday needs. Cotton is known for growing in the northern areas of South America, it grows exceptionally well in the Caribbean, and of course, it’s known to grow well in the states of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. Certain cotton strains grow well in the Midwest, and other strains grow well in the desert areas of the Southwest. It grows well in Carolina’s (that includes Virginia) and is easily grown in Tennessee. With modern technology and the use of greenhouses, cotton can be and is grown as far north as Maine, although that tends to be specialty crops that are very expensive and intended for a specific use.
Cotton was grown in the Middle East long before America was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus. There were two major issues that prevented large scale production. The first being that there simply wasn’t enough water available, or there wasn’t proper irrigation technology to move water to fields, to allow for mass production of cotton as an economic staple. Secondly, and this is the elephant in the room which always needs to be mentioned when discussing cotton production, in the Middle East they didn’t have access to free labor such as what the European immigrants in America introduced through the atrocity of slavery.
Cotton grows well in Africa also, in theory if it weren’t for environmental concerns which come with deforestation, Africa could potentially replace America as the leading supplier of cotton on a global scale. The continent has the space needed, the heat and humidity required, and the labor force to produce cotton, and African cotton is produced on a scale suitable to global needs. Outside of the environmental concerns of enlarging the cotton industry in Africa are issues such as a shared infrastructure and political stability which prevent Africa from raising the amount of crop the continent could potentially sustain.
Cotton was grown and used in Asian fabrics long before Europeans even knew such a textile existed. It wasn’t used so much by the elite nobility who could afford silk, nor by the peasant class who found linen to be more practical for everyday labor, but cotton was worn by middle class people who held intermediary government jobs.
The fact remains that cotton growth is potentially detrimental to the environment when conducted improperly. Just as important is understanding how, even with modern machinery, cotton production requires intense menial labor. Before modern machinery, the amount of labor needed was what today’s standards would declare inhumane.
It’s also part of a cultural paradigm which extends beyond boundaries across the world. Cotton production isn’t going away, but as new technologies and scientific advancements are pursued, the end game is not to replace cotton with a synthetic substitute, but to consider better means of production which are sounder towards environmental and human rights concerns.
If you need John Deere or Case IH aftermarket parts for your cotton harvesting equipment so that you can ensure that the cotton production on your farm remains ethical and takes the local environment into account, you need quality aftermarket parts. At Certi-Pik, USA, you will find a range of parts and machinery that will be able to keep your harvesters in working order.