Cotton and Water

Does Growing Cotton Really Require a lot of Water?

No. Agriculture as a whole is responsible for 70 percent of global water consumption. Cotton has a share of only three percent of global agriculture, which also corresponds roughly to the area it requires. It is an exceptionally drought-resistant plant. It is grown especially in dry, arid areas, as it can also provide income in places where other crops do not grow.

Of course, cotton cannot grow without water. From seed to harvest, there is a period of six months, but the plant only needs moisture in the rearing phase. Water is provided either by rainfall or artificial irrigation. The latter offers higher yields. In the maturing phase, the plant reacts negatively to too much moisture. It requires a lot of sun and loves drought. Otherwise, a loss of quality can occur.

In the meantime, much has been done in the field of artificial irrigation that is necessary in some regions. Overall, modern, partly computerised and thus much more productive irrigation methods (e.g. drip irrigation), as well as the intelligent management of water supplies have led to a significant increase in the efficiency of water use within the last ten years in individual countries, such as the USA and Australia. In the USA, only 35 percent of the growing area is supported by artificial irrigation.

Water requirements of cotton depend on regional conditions

In Africa, which is dominated by small-scale farming structures, cotton production in certain regions can usually be carried out using only rainwater irrigation, thanks to the positive climatic conditions. The same applies to India. Since the regular power supply required for irrigation cannot necessarily be guaranteed in many developing countries, people in those regions are simply dependent on the rain. In Israel, in addition to efficient irrigation techniques, people are turning to the use of water recycling.

Since cotton is grown in so many different countries, all with very different irrigation systems, it is not possible to specify an average consumption that applies to all regions.

Currently, methods are being developed worldwide to continuously reduce water consumption in the production of cotton. In many regions, this goal is being achieved through the intensive training of cotton farmers. Alongside this, agricultural research is currently working on the development of cotton plants that can grow with less water.

Additional texts on the topic of water:

Series of articles on irrigation methods in cotton farming:

Cotton and Water – Part 1: Extra water savings with progressive irrigation methods

Cotton and Water Part 2: Progressive Irrigation Methods at a Glance

Cotton & Water – Part 3: Irrigation Management and Best Practice

Interview with Dr Ed Barnes, Senior Director of Agricultural and Environmental Research at Cotton Incorporated, USA.

How much water does cotton really need?

Short video on cotton and water:





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