We are working to improve sustainability in 9 key areas. The third of these is biodiversity: Improving the condition of biodiversity across the cotton landscape to benefit cotton farms and the environment.
Why this is a priority?
Along with soil and water, biodiversity – the variety of life forms found in an environment including animals, plants, bacteria, fungi and micro-organisms – makes up the natural capital that cotton farms rely on to exist.
For cotton growers, biodiversity provides services including natural pest control and pollination, erosion control, carbon sequestration and storage and enhanced water retention. These can all deliver a direct financial benefit to growers, as well as improving wellbeing from simply having more trees and biodiversity in the landscape.
For consumers and other stakeholders, protecting and restoring biodiversity is becoming increasingly important. For example, the UN Sustainable Development Goals call for urgent and significant action to halt the loss of biodiversity, many of the world’s largest financial institutions are planning how to assess and disclose nature-related risks (just as they now disclose climate-related risks), and the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy includes a target to plant 3 billion trees and reverse pollinator decline by 2030. Agricultural industries that can demonstrate biodiversity stewardship are more likely to maintain access to markets and customers. Those that can’t will likely come under increasing scrutiny.
What is our ultimate goal?
Our goal is to improve biodiversity condition on farms and across the cotton landscape. This sustainability goal covers biodiversity in the non-cropping areas of cotton farms (biodiversity in soil is addressed by the Soil Health goal) and includes the condition of riparian and non-riparian vegetation, grasslands and wetlands that are being managed for environmental outcomes.
“Condition” includes the area of these natural assets, the connectivity of vegetation across the landscape, and the composition of native vegetation (diversity of species and age classes).
What is our draft target?
Measuring biodiversity is a complex and evolving space. There is no nationally agreed approach to manage farm biodiversity, but many different initiatives are underway to try to address this. In addition, a much bigger impact will be made if the industry plans and coordinates biodiversity work at the regional level, to ensure all the work being done by individual farms contributes to regional priorities.
This is the challenge we are addressing now: to work with growers, governments, agencies, other agriculture sectors and other stakeholders to set baselines of region-specific biodiversity, prioritise regional management practices, develop a credible and pragmatic way to measure change in biodiversity condition at industry scale, and work with growers to improve biodiversity condition.
A target will be set after an agreed way to measure biodiversity is developed.
What can growers do to improve biodiversity?
Even though a target has not been set yet, the importance of biodiversity makes it critical that work continues to improve biodiversity condition on farms and across the cotton landscape.
For cotton growers, this includes:
- Controlling environmental weeds and feral pests
- Preventing native vegetation loss and land degradation
- Protecting and restoring native vegetation, for example by allowing the least productive areas of the farm to revegetate, fencing off riparian zones, and looking to increase connectivity of vegetation to form corridors across the landscape.
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.