While organic cotton is grown from non-GMO seeds, and without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers, some complain that growing organic cotton requires more water than regular cotton. Is this true?

There is research which shows that, as fields are transitioned from traditional to organic cotton, a bit more water is required. However, there is also evidence that once fields are converted to organic growing, the need for water is reduced. How is this possible?

As with so many things, there are pluses and minuses to changing one’s thinking and practices. For me, the pluses of organic cotton vs. regular cotton outweigh the minuses:

  • Organic cotton is a rotation crop. When crops are rotated the soil maintains its nutrients and is better able to retain water.

  • Regular cotton is usually the sole crop planted (no crop rotation).

  • Regular cotton depletes the soil of nutrients, and leaves the soil incapable of retaining water.

  • Most organic cotton fields rely on rain water – not irrigation.

  • Crop rotation is an effective measure to break many insect pests and plant disease cycles.

  • Chemical-free cotton farming leaves fewer harmful by-products on the finished product, such as organic cotton clothing.

  • Organic cotton farms keep many people ethically employed.

The amount of water required to grow organic cotton vs. regular cotton is indeed slightly higher – at first. However, after one or two crop-rotation cycles, the soil quality improves and allows for the same, or even less, water usage to grow organic cotton.

Further, because organic cotton can be rain-fed in many regions of the world, the amount of energy required in the production process is also reduced. Other advantages, such as the use of biological systems to keep the balance, instead of using synthetic agricultural chemicals, are huge pluses for promoting the growth and use of organic cotton vs. regular cotton.

For me, the options are clear – organic cotton is easily the better choice.

For more on the use of water in cotton farming, click here: The Farm Hub.