Climate challenges and cotton

  • Cotton growers, like other farmers, depend on the natural environment and the weather to produce their crop
  • Cotton is a perennial plant grown commercially as an annual, summer crop in regions that experience climate variability driven by El Nino/La Nina cycles
  • The Australian cotton industry has a strong history of adaptation and change to take advantage of new opportunities and Australian growers have already developed highly efficient and flexible farming systems in order to manage their crop in variable climates
  • The industry is proud of its commitment to sustainability and responsible production, and this is driven by a sustained effort in research, development and extension

This ensures that the industry:

  • is connected to the latest information regarding changes in climate, and the best ways to manage for this.
  • is positioned to take advantage of the opportunities arising from, and respond to, government efforts to manage climate change and limit man-made greenhouse gas emissions
  • The Australian cotton industry is relatively a very minor contributor to agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, representing less than one third of one per cent of Australian agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions (ranging from 0.16-0.29%) 
  • Cotton growing has a better-than-neutral carbon footprint. Net on-farm emissions of greenhouse gases on cotton farms are negative because the cotton plants store more carbon than is released from production inputs used during growth 
  • The main sources of emissions on an irrigated cotton farm are synthetic fertilisers and electricity and fossil fuels used to power irrigation pumps
  • On-farm case studies have indicated that the adoption of minimum tillage has reduced energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions by 12% since 2000
  • The industry has carried out a life cycle assessment of an Australian cotton T-shirt. It found the major environmental impact to be in the ‘use’ component of the garment (wearing then washing) rather than production and manufacturing

Australian cotton farmers continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the land’s ability to store more carbon through practices and innovations including:

  • Maximising the efficiency of major inputs used in cotton growing such as energy and nitrogen by optimising irrigation pump performance, using fuel-efficient farm machinery
  • Using alternative sources of nitrogen, e.g. the use of legume rotation crops which fix nitrogen in the soil
  • Implementing other practices to improve soil health including using controlled traffic and minimum-tillage systems
  • Further minimising machinery operations (and therefore fuel use) of spraying (through industry-wide use of herbicide-tolerant cotton), and during harvest (through broad-scale changes in machinery used which replaces multiple machines with one)
  • Using renewable and alternative energy sources and fuels, such as solar panels, to power irrigation pumps, and biofuels
  • Conserving and managing areas of native vegetation and riparian areas on farm, which are valuable carbon stores
  • These practices also contribute to developing landscapes that are more resilient to the impacts of drought and climate variability
  • The most up-to-date knowledge in these areas is delivered to growers through the industry’s extension network, CottonInfo, and the myBMP environmental management program which includes components on energy and input efficiency, natural resources and soil health.

Some of the supporting tools that are available for growers include:

  • a carbon footprint calculator for cotton farms which demonstrates how farmers can be carbon neutral, or even better, be carbon positive
  • tailored information and decision support tools to understand and better manage weather and climate


© Cotton Australia 2018. This material is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 International License (CC BY CC BY-NC 4)