The Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation and the Soil Health Institute announced a founding grant to launch the Institute’s US Regenerative Cotton Fund (USRCF), a farmer-facing, science-based initiative that will support long-term, sustainable cotton production in the United States, with the goal of eliminating one million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere by 2026.
“We are very grateful for the opportunity to promote soil health and to assist cotton farmers across the US with storing more carbon, building drought resilience, and mitigating the very effects of climate change that are impacting us all,” Dr. Cristine Morgan, Chief Scientific Officer for the Soil Health Institute and leader of the US Regenerative Cotton Fund, said.
“To achieve widespread environmental benefits from regenerative agriculture means we must understand farmers’ needs and experiences when adopting these practices. Adoption is hindered by a lack of information on the business case, locally relevant soil health education programmes, and until now, knowledge of how healthy a given soil can become and what that means for improving drought resilience, yield stability, economics, and other benefits for farmers.”
Significant opportunity exists for expanding adoption of climate-friendly soil health practices in cotton production. Based on data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Census of Agriculture, only 8% of cotton cropland is managed using cover cropping and 21% is managed using no tillage. The USRCF will empower cotton farmers to adopt regenerative practices, like cover cropping and no till, in a way that benefits their operation. Regenerative agricultural practices can address issues important to both consumers and the environment, such as climate change, water quality, and pollinator habitat. The programme will also help to ensure farmers can generate long-term value for their operations including increased profitability.
The USRCF is supported by a US$ 5 million grant from the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation. Currently, cotton makes up more than 80% of Ralph Lauren Corporation’s total material use. As part of Ralph Lauren’s Global Citizenship & Sustainability goals, the company has committed that by 2025, 100% of key materials, including cotton, will be sustainably sourced. The Foundation’s USRCF initiative complements Ralph Lauren’s work to pioneer, foster and scale sustainable innovation through partnerships and investments including its work with Natural Fiber Welding, Inc. and Color on Demand. Additionally, the USRCF will work to unite the interests of farmers, partners, and financial supporters around soil health as the foundation for regenerative agriculture. Participating partners of the Fund include Cotton Incorporated, National Cotton Council, and Field to Market.
The USRCF will initially operate in four states: Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, and Georgia and will look to expand into Alabama, North Carolina, Missouri, California, and Oklahoma as these nine states represent 85% of US cotton production. The Soil Health Institute will work closely with cotton farmers to help them measure and monitor the environmental, societal, and economic benefits of soil health management systems on their operations. Through the USRCF, improvements in soil health and carbon sequestration will be measured through an approach developed by the Soil Health Institute called soil health and soil carbon targets. The USRCF will also engage with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), specifically those with agricultural programs, to develop increased access to career paths in decision-making positions in US agriculture and establish mentoring programs to help prepare the next generation of scientists and leaders in agriculture.