The short answer is no, for a variety of reasons. In fact to Cotton Australia's knowledge there are no organic cotton farms in Australia. Australia's cotton farmers have tried and failed to grow organic cotton in Australia's larger, modern and mechanised cotton farming systems.
Instead, cotton in Australia is grown under the world class myBMP (Best Management Practices) program that includes over 300 environmental and social standards including many in common with organic cotton production. While there are many similarities, the Australian cotton industry believes that the myBMP program is the best certification for achieving sustainable cotton production in Australia.
Organic cotton has proven most successful in developing countries where the average farm size is 1-2 hectares. This makes organic farming much more manageable in terms of "hands-on" crop management requirements such as hand sowing, weeding and harvesting.
Organic cotton production has proven difficult in Australia for reasons including:
- Yields for organic cotton in Australia are much lower, and therefore require 3-4 times more land to produce the same amount of cotton. So from a land-use efficiency perspective, organic cotton doesn't make good sense here in Australia like it does in other parts of the world
- Despite lower yields, organic cotton requires at least the same amount of water as the conventional cotton varieties grown in Australia
- The cost of production can be higher for organic cotton in Australia, making it essential to get a better price for the fibre to make it a profitable option - a risk that's not always achievable
- Growers get paid more when they produce high quality cotton fibre, and Australia grows some of the highest quality cotton in the world - as non GM cotton is more susceptible to insect pests and diseases, this becomes more difficult as quality can suffer and can also be inconsistent year to year in the Australian system
- Organic cotton requires more intensive seasonal labour which is difficult to source and is much more expensive in Australia compared to developing cotton producing countries
- Australian growers use GM cotton varieties with an inbuilt resistance to insects. This has reduced pesticide use by over 90% in the last decade. GM is not permitted in the organic farming system
Cotton Australia believes that there is a place for all cotton certification programs that are working towards higher environmental and social standards for cotton (such as organic, myBMP from Australia, Better Cotton and Fairtrade). These programs can work together to tackle some of the shared issues for cotton production globally.