April 2021

We are working to improve sustainability in 9 key areas. The second of these is reducing net emissions from greenhouse gases: less emissions, more sequestration.

Why this is a priority?

Like many other agriculture sectors, cotton is both impacted by climate change and can help reduce its effects.

The production of cotton creates greenhouse gases, which are creating extra heat in the global climate system. Cotton farms also store atmospheric carbon dioxide as carbon in soil and vegetation.

While cotton is a relatively small contributor – about 0.2 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse emissions – all sectors that release emissions have a responsibility to reduce them. For most customers and consumers of agricultural products, their top expectation is to see urgent work towards zero net emissions to minimise the impacts of climate change.

Climate change will have both positive and negative effects on cotton production.

Potential positive impacts:

Potential negative impacts:

Increased CO2 may increase yield in well-watered crops.

Higher temperatures have the potential to cause significant fruit loss, reduce water use efficiencies, lower yields and alter fibre quality.

Higher temperatures will extend the length of the growing season. More frequent extreme weather events such as droughts, heatwaves and flooding pose significant risks to improvements in cotton productivity.
  Excessive shading by extra leaves generated by more Co2 may lead to fruit loss throughout the season.
  Higher evapotranspiration and higher temperatures are likely to decrease the amount of water available for irrigation and increase challenges for dryland cotton in future decades.













Where do cotton’s greenhouse gases come from?

In the five years to 2018-19, on average almost 60 per cent of the emissions to grow and ship to port a bale of cotton came from nitrogen fertiliser (about 70 per cent of N emissions are from on-farm use, and about 30% from production of the fertiliser). On-farm fuel accounted for 15 per cent, and ginning energy 10 per cent.

Where do cotton’s greenhouse gases come from?












What is our ultimate goal?

A climate neutral cotton industry, if technically feasible. This means the emissions released in cotton production are cancelled out by carbon sequestered in soil and vegetation on cotton farms.

Research by cotton and other agriculture industries is currently taking place to answer this. This research is also looking to accurately account for all emissions on a farm: for example, how much emissions from fertiliser should be attributed to cotton and how much to a grain crop grown on the same paddock next season, or how much sequestration from native vegetation is attributed to cotton production and how much to livestock production on the same farm. This is important but difficult work; we know from talking to stakeholders that any target we set needs to have a credible methodology to measure progress, and a credible pathway to achieve it.

What is our draft target?

A target for net greenhouse emissions will be developed after this research creates an agreed on-farm methodology, and baselines can be measured. This is not expected until 2022.  Measures of greenhouse gas emissions from previous research are:

Measures of greenhouse gas emissions from previous research





What do growers need to do, to achieve the target?

The target requires the industry to:

  • Reduce emissions per bale and in total.  This will primarily be achieved through improved nitrogen use efficiency, and reduced fossil fuel energy (fuel and electricity). See myBMP modules for Soil Health, Energy and Input Efficiency and CottonInfo information on carbon farming, crop nutrition, energy use efficiency
  • Increase carbon sequestration, primarily through increased native vegetation, and potentially through increasing carbon-rich organic matter in soil. See myBMP Sustainable Natural Landscapes and CottonInfo natural resource management.

Reducing net emissions can create tangible benefits for growers, as well as improving the industry’s social licence:

  • Not applying more fertiliser than the crop needs and reducing losses can reduce costs
  • Carbon rich soil organic matter supplies nutrients for plant growth and soil micro-organisms, stabilises soil structure, improves soil water storage and infiltration, and reduces the effects of salinity and sodicity
  • Conservation of healthy native vegetation can contribute to the long-term health and sustainability of the farm, such as by providing habitat for pest predators. 


Sustainability: managing what matters

The PLANET. PEOPLE. PADDOCK. sustainability framework is focused on the topics most important to the industry and its stakeholders. Through a process involving a technical review, industry input and external stakeholder consultations nine topics have been identified across our environmental (PLANET), social (PEOPLE) and economic (PADDOCK) impacts.

The industry is working to set targets for these nine topics. In achieving these sustainability targets, the industry aims to run profitable and efficient businesses while creating environmental, economic and social value.

This blog is part of a year long program from CottonInfo, with the themes aligned with the 2021 CottonInfo cotton calendar and the cotton industry’s PLANET. PEOPLE. PADDOCK sustainability framework.