Organic Cotton Production; Cultivation Practices

Organic Cotton Production, Cultivation Practices

Today, we are into a discussion of Organic Cotton Production and its Cultivation Practices.

Introduction to Organic Cotton:

Organic cotton is a great eco-friendly fabric. It is grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or other chemical fertilizers, and is simply better for your health & the environment. Organic cotton is rapidly gaining market traction, mainly in fashion and home products. There are strict certification requirements for the use of organic cotton labels, and these requirements, generate many social, ecological & economic benefits. Its production is supposed to promote and enhance biodiversity & biological cycles.

Organic cotton is developed using methods and materials that contain a low impact on the environment. Its production is supposed to promote and enhance biodiversity & biological cycles. Organic cotton is grown without the use of persistent pesticides & synthetic fertilizers.

Organic Cotton.
Organic Cotton.

Organic cotton production is more environmentally friendly & better for the health of the community. A necessary part of organic cotton production is the careful selection of varieties adapted to local conditions in terms of climate, soil, and robustness to pests & diseases. Soil fertility management and crop nutrition are based on crop diversification and organic inputs such as compost, mulch & manures.  An organic cotton farming system is one that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems & people. The organic cotton production system can be applied at different scales. Though, an average organic cotton farmer has only 4.3 hectares (one hectare equals approximately 2.5 acres), which indicates that organic farming systems are moderately small.

Soil requirement for Organic Cotton Production:

Organic cotton can be grown in many soils, but deep medium to heavy soils are best, and soil should retain water well. The planted region of organic cotton in 2013-2014 was 220,765 hectares of land. Organic cotton farmers employ a wide range of techniques to conserve soils & water, improve soil fertility, and deter pests. Popular techniques for improving soil fertility include crop rotation & composting. The most popular crop varieties grown in rotation with, or alongside, cotton is cereals & grains followed by legumes and pulses. All of which provide soil fertility as well as a source of carbohydrate, oil & protein to organic farming households.

Organic Cotton Plantation.
Organic Cotton Plantation.

Although tilling may be used to control weeds in lieu of synthetic herbicides as well as for incorporating organic fertilizers & manure into the soil. The potential impacts of tillage on soil erosion may be minimized & even eliminated by appropriate use of many of the above-mentioned strategies. Depending on the approach a farmer may use, organic cotton may be planted less densely to encourage plant growth & beneficial co-species. As well as to discourage pests; conversely, denser plantings can help shade out weeds. Fertility is better by planting cover crops following the harvest. To maintain organic certification, cotton & all farm system crops must be grown without the use of prohibited farm chemicals. Three year transition period must be met before the land must be certified as organic.

The Soil pH level:

Organic cotton will grow on a variety of soils, including sandy soil & heavy clay as long as it is water permeable and will grow optimally in a soil with a pH of 5.5 to 8.5. However, black soils are best suited for growing organic cotton.

Soil fertility:

Mineral nutrition of crops in organic systems comes from the proper running of soil organisms that are responsible for releasing nutrients. Rather than feeding plants with fertilizer, organic farmers feed the soil & let the soil organisms feed the plants. The biological activity in the soil can be likened to a digestive practice whereby organic food sources are applied to the soil. Then digested by soil organisms to discharge nutrients for the crop. Soil mineral levels are built up through the application of animal manure, compost & cover crops that bring up nutrients from deep within the soil. Plant nutrition is supplemented with foliar fertilization in several situations. Soil fertility, levels of organic matter, minerals, pH & other measurements can be monitored with regular soil tests. The overall cropping sequence fosters a system provides fertility benefits to a subsequent crop such as a legume cover crop providing nitrogen to the following corn crop.

Read: Organic Farming NABARD Subsidy, Loan, Schemes.

Crop rotation in Organic Cotton Production:

Crop rotation is a traditional agricultural practice connecting the sequencing of different crops on farm fields; it is considered fundamental to successful organic farming. Rotations are a planned approach to diversifying the whole farm system, both economically bringing diversity to each field over time. Rotations can advantage the farm in several ways.

Planned rotations are one of the effective means of breaking many insect pests & plant disease cycles in the soil. Likewise, many problem weeds are suppressed by the nature & timing of different cultural practices. Rotations affect the fertility of the soil in significant ways. The inclusion of forage legumes, in particular, may serve as the main source of nitrogen for subsequent crops.

Crop rotation is an important means of controlling a number of cotton pests, including nematodes. Even basic corn-cotton rotations have been found effective in reducing some species of nematodes. A minimum of two years planted with non-host species is the standard recommendation.

Nutrient requirement for Organic Cotton Production:

Crop rotation and intercropping with legumes and the application of farm-produced organic manure need to form the basis of nutrient management in organic cotton farming. Organic farmers should not try to copy conventional fertilizer schemes by simply substituting NPK-fertilizers with organic manures. It is important that prevent soil erosion, use all available crop residues & organic wastes, and do not burn crop residues or cow dung.

Seed rate in Organic Cotton Production:

The seed rate in organic cotton farming varies according to the type of soil & variety used for cultivation. However, for growing cotton in 1-hectare land, about three to four kilograms of cotton seeds is sufficient enough. However, about 10,000 to 12,000 plants are the best for commercial cotton cultivation.

Propagation in Organic Cotton Production:

Basic requirements Cotton is best developed in desert conditions using irrigation. The seeds will germinate optimally at 34°C (93.2°F), while the seedlings require a temperature between 24 and 29°C (75.2–84.2°F) to grow & develop properly. In addition to cotton has a very high tolerance for salt. Organic cotton planting is propagated from seed by planting directly in a prepared field when growing conditions are suitable temperature, adequate rainfall etc. Cotton should be planted when the soil has warmed to at least 18.3°C (65°F). Generally, seeds should be sown at a depth of 0.25 cm (1 in), with 3 to 6 seed sown in each hole. Ridging the soil is recommended as it helps to drain the plant in wet conditions & also to conserve water in dry conditions. Plant spacing depends on the variety, but normally 20 to 100 cm (7.9–39.4 in) should be left between plants.

The organic cotton must be kept free from weeds and where the crop does not receive an adequate amount of water from rainfall, additional irrigation should be provided. Demand for nutrients is dependent on the nature of the soil on which the cotton is being grown. Organic cotton raising in acidic soils the plants will have a better demand for nitrogen & phosphorus, whereas, in sandy soil, potassium will be of greater importance. It is not recommended to grow cotton in the same field for more than three years & the crop should be rotated to prevent the build-up of diseases in the soil.

Irrigation/water requirement for Organic Cotton Production:

Cotton requires approximately 700 to 1300 mm of water depending on climate & length of the growing period. Cotton’s water requirements can be met by a combination of precipitation, irrigation, and soil moisture. Growing cotton in regions with substantial precipitation, increasing soil fertility & controlling soil evaporation, help reduce or even eliminate the use of irrigation.

Nowadays, farmers are more using the drip irrigation method than the traditional method of irrigation. With a drip irrigation system, there is no need for labor work & there is no waste of time and water. The drip irrigation method utilizes water the best as possible. With this, it is easy to add up manure & fertilizers to crop frequently and easily to all the crop plants.

With a drip irrigation system, it is possible to grow organic cotton, almost in all kinds of soil with the accessibility of fewer water sources. Also, the drip irrigation method enables us for early plantation of cotton. Organic cotton farming with this system results in the uniform growth of cotton during almost all the stages.

Weed management in Organic Cotton Production:

Weed management is primarily achieved through the preventive selection of clean seeds, completely decomposed compost, crop rotation; cover cropping, mulching & soil solarization. Cultural, mechanical and manual procedures can be employed to supplement preventive measures.

Manuring for Organic Cotton Production:

To realize economical production, soil fertility has to be maintained & gradually improved. Improvement and maintenance of organic matter of the soil are very important in organic cotton production. As this would increase physical parameters of the soil, improve soil structure & enhance nutrient supply. Since huge amounts of farmyard manure (FYM) to meet the nutrient requirements of the cotton crop is not normally available. A combination of sources with different biological properties must be preferably used.

Organic fertilizers and Organic manures:

Green manures and intercropping:

Green manure crops for cotton (mainly pulses like sun hemp or cowpea, or mixtures containing pulses & cereals) are regularly sown between the cotton rows after the cotton seedlings have emerged. They are cut before or at the time of flowering & are either used as mulch or incorporated into the soil. Intercrops like maize or pigeon pea can be developed in rows every few meters, replacing a row of cotton. Intercrops are usually allowed to mature and are cut & used as organic mulch after the seeds are harvested

When organic cotton is intercropped with maize, sorghum, beans or peanuts, pests find it more difficult to move from one host plant to another. They are controlled by a number of helpful insects hosted by the intercrops. Some of the examples are:

  • Maize planted in every two rows of cotton attracts the African bollworm.
  • Sunflower or cowpea sown in every five rows of cotton attracts moths when planted as trap crops.
  • Castor bean attracts caterpillars.
  • Rice, when rotated with mung bean & cotton, disrupts the life cycle of pests attacking these crops.

For best distracting effect, planting of intercrops, trap crops & border crops should be timed such that they flower at the same time with cotton. Intercrops are usually allowed to mature & are cut and used as mulching material after the seeds are harvested.

Organic manures (FYM, compost, Vermicompost), in situ green manuring, cowpea along with fertility restoring crop rotations form the components for maintaining soil fertility.


Vermicompost 1 to 2 t/ha should be added, supplementing FYM on the furrow lines on which sowing is done. Its nutrient composition varies with a substrate that is vermicomposted but normally contains several diverse micro floras that aid in good plant growth. It offers excellent scope for recycling of farm waste.

Farmyard manuring (FYM):

Farmyard manuring 15 t/ha must be added before preparatory tillage & mixed thoroughly. FYM should be well decomposed & should be preferably treated with composting organisms such as Trichoderma viride. The rate may gradually be brought down 5 to 10 t/ha, once the farm yield stabilizes over a few years.

Fodder cowpea:

In situ green manuring with fodder cowpea & its burying at 40 days after sowing will ensure a steady nitrogen (N) supply during the grand-growth phase when the nitrogen demand peaks up in the crop. It hastens microbial activity in soil, reduces weed growth & enhances natural enemy build up. This provides around 400 to 500 kg dry matter per hectare with 2.5% N & contributes 10-12 kg N/ha during squaring. Its additional benefits include smothering of weeds, controlling seasonal soil erosion & nurturing natural enemies of cotton pests.


The dense stand of this legume must be raised around the cotton field at a width of 2 m; its lopping cut & spread between cotton rows of 65 to 70 days after sowing. It’s fast decomposing leaves offer N during early boll development period & stalks act as temporary mulch, preventing soil moisture evaporation.

Common Pests and Diseases in Organic Cotton Production:


Aphids are the main pests in fields with low populations of natural enemies, high manure application, or where crops suffer water stress. Heavy infestations cause crinkling and cupping of leaves, defoliation, square and boll shedding & stunted growth. If the infestation is not high, the plant can compensate for the damage. Honeydew excretion causes sticky cotton lint & thus problems in spinning. Aphids make large amounts of a sugary liquid waste called honeydew. A fungus, called sooty mould, grows on this honeydew, turning leaves & branches black. The eggs are very tiny, shiny black and are found in the crevices of bud, stems & bark of the plant. Winged adults are produced only when it is essential for the colony to migrate.

American bollworms:

The young larvae feed on tender leaves, buds, and flowers & later bore into the bolls. While feeding, its head & part of the body is inside the boll. They deposit faeces at the base of the opening hole. Eggs are pinhead-size & yellowish-green in color.

They are creating singly laid on the surface of the leaves. Larvae vary in color from bright green color, pink & brown, to black, with lighter undersides. Alternating light & dark bands run lengthwise along their bodies, the heads are yellow and the legs are almost black. Mature larvae drop to the earth, to burrow into the soil to pupate. Pupae are yellowish-green & turn brown as they mature. Adult moths are grey to brown in color and have dark spots on the front wings. They are active at night & hide in vegetation during the day. The total development period from egg to adult is about 34 days to 45 days.


The larvae cut seedlings often at the ground stage. They can be established in the soil down to a depth of about 5 cm near the host plant. Cutworms constantly curl up when disturbed. They feed, simply at night. Eggs are tiny, pearl-white, round & have a ridged surface. The full-grown larva is brown color or brownish-black with a tinge of orange. The pupa is black in color or brown in color. The adult has dark brown forewings with distinctive black spots & white and yellow wavy stripes.

Cotton stainers:

Cotton stainers suck sap from flowers, buds & bolls of cotton. In case of high infestation, the bolls open insufficiently & the lint quality is reduced due to stains resulting from fungal infections. When sucking on immature seeds, cotton stainers transmit fungus on the immature lint & seed. This later stains the lint with typical yellow color, thus the name ‘cotton stainers’. Heavy infestations on the seeds affect the crop mass, oil content, germination capacity of the seed & marketability of the crop. Cotton stainers are, however, usually not the main problem in organic fields.

Bacterial blight:

Leaves show oily black spots; stems turn black; defoliation & boll shedding if an infestation is high.

Fusarium wilt: Practice Cotton crop rotation; removes cotton stalks after harvesting. Apply healthy decomposed compost.

Root rot and boll rot: Caused by various fungi & bacteria.

Harvesting Techniques of Organic Cotton Production:

This crop takes about four to five months to become complete for harvesting. This crop must be harvested either by manual picking or a harvester. Harvesting manually is a slow procedure but is more preferred because it retains more fibers.

A longer stay of boll open in the field may result in bad quality cotton production. So, organic cotton should be harvested manually at regular interval. With harvester, it is not possible to harvest cotton frequently & also it cost more.

As the boll opens frequently for some time periods, hand picking is the best & a suitable way of harvesting cotton at normal intervals. And to minimize the fiber loss in cotton to get more rates in the market.  For rising cotton commercially, conduct picking with more labors at a time. Also, picks the cotton crop about 3 to 4 per season at regular interval to get more & more production.

The quality of the cotton harvest depends on the length of the fibre, on the portion of the fibre damaged by pest or disease infestation. Good-quality raw material helps to make yarns & garments of high quality, and thus eventually contributes to the market success of the organic cotton project. When cotton buyers fix prices, they generally take into consideration the quality of the seed cotton. Measures are taken to develop the quality of the harvest, therefore directly pay off for the farmers:

  • Allow the cotton bolls to fully ripen & open.
  • Pick the cotton after the morning dews have dried up, so that the cotton is dry & less prone to fungus when being stored.
  • Pick the cotton into fresh cotton cloth material, never into nylon or other synthetics.
  • Remove leaves, capsules & damaged bolls from the cotton harvest.
  • Keep cotton of the lesser quality divide with the help of a second, smaller picking bag.
  • Picking delays can cause reduction of fibre quality, as the opened bolls are exposed to dew, dust & honeydew from insects longer.
  • It is important that no unripe cotton is picked, as it will not absorb the dye well enough & thus is priced lower.

Storage of Cotton:

The storage place needs to be clean & dry. Damp conditions can lead to the growth of fungus, with significant loss of organic cotton quality. When the organic harvest is stored in the same facilities with conventional cotton (e.g. in ginneries), care must be taken to clearly separate the organic, in-conversion and to avoid any mixing.

The yield of Cotton:

The yield of cotton.
The yield of cotton.

The expected yield of Organic cotton is 2 to 4 tons (4400 to 8800 lbs.) per hectare.

Read: Sunflower Cultivation.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here