Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation and Soil Health Institute have announced a founding grant to launch the US Regenerative Cotton Fund (USRCF), a unique, farmer-facing, science-based initiative that will support long-term, sustainable cotton production in the US, with the goal of eliminating one million metric tons of CO2e from the atmosphere by 2026.
“The US Regenerative Cotton Fund is an ambitious effort crafted in partnership with the experts at the Soil Health Institute that puts growers at the centre of creating a sustainable future for US cotton production,” Roseann Lynch, Ralph Lauren Corporation’s chief people officer and head of the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation, said in a statement.
“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,” Dr Cristine Morgan, chief scientific officer for the Soil Health Institute and leader of the USRCF said.
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 per cent of cotton cropland is managed using cover cropping and 21 pe rcent 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 $5 million grant from the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation. Currently, cotton makes up more than 80 per cent 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 per cent 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 statement added.
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 per cent 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 programmes, to develop increased access to career paths in decision-making positions in US agriculture and establish mentoring programmes to help prepare the next generation of scientists and leaders in agriculture.