Following from Farm to Flag, Cotton is Woven into Fabric of America

USFR-FJR e3 Cotton
The Musselwhites in Georgia are only growing e3 cotton this year, a new variety helping share farmers’ stories by tracing cotton from the farm to American flags. ( Cassidy Reeh )

Cotton farmers are in the trenches of nurturing their high-intensive crop. For Georgia farmers, extremely wet conditions created a slow start, but as the crop popped up, farmers like the Musselwhites in Dooly County, Ga., are doing everything they can to help aid the crop.

“It looks real good for us, but it's kind of hard to tell right now,” says Keith Musselwhite.

The Musselwhites aren’t just trying to get their cotton crop off to a roaring start, they’re also battling fading commodity prices. Even for a crop that is seeing struggling prices, and one that requires constant care, the Musselwhites say cotton is a crop they love.

 “This is not my farm; it's my family’s farm,” says Keith. “I have a son that farms with me. I have a wife very involved. It's what we do. It's very heartfelt, and this cotton is very symbolic to the history of the farms.”

Keith’s love for the crop also spills over to a love for his American land, passed down from one generation to the next.

“Cotton to me is very important to me and my family,” says Codey Musselwhite, Keith’s son. “My dad's always grown cotton. Ever since I was old enough to be able to be involved in it, cotton was always my favorite thing to see grow.”

Planting roots in their family’s Georgia soils is something Codey is trying to do, growing a new e3 cotton variety from BASF that can be traced from the farm all the way through its journey.

“The e3 cotton is the only cotton we're growing this year because, unlike other cotton varieties, this cotton stays within the states, and you can trace it,” he says.For Keith, being able to follow cotton’s trusted journey all the way back to the farm is what’s helping blossom a new opportunity for young farmers like his son.

“The mainstay with e3 cotton programs is just the bottom-line sustainability for the young farmers coming into the program. To keep our cotton and our products in the United States, keeping a market for the younger guys to be able to grow the cotton, is huge.”

 

 

BASF says the e3 cotton program is helping share farmers’ stories from the farm to the gin, all the way to the cotton clothes we wear.

“It's just our unique way of being able to tell that farmer story – and what he's doing – in a unique channel,” says Jennifer Crumpler, BASF e3 sustainable cotton program manager. “That hasn't been done before,” she adds.

Crumpler leads the e3 sustainable cotton program for BASF and says the program puts the focus on sustainability. 

"When you think about sustainability, there are three pillars that people always talk about: the environment, people and money," she says. "With our three pillars, we talk about being socially equitable, being economically viable and environmentally responsible. That's really what it stands for."

Crumpler says the opportunity was planted from cotton's unique ability to tell a story. She says it's that story everyone from clothing designers to flag makers are hungry for.

“Just bringing it all together and having the transparency for a farmer to tell a designer a brand, ‘this is why I do what I do,’ and why maybe what’s happening in Texas isn't a good operational practice in Louisiana,” she says. “Then, for that designer brand to understand this is why we, as cotton farmers, do what we do, and why we love what we do.”

Cotton’s rich history reaches back for generations, deeply rooted in pride and even used to make American flags. 

“As a cotton farmer or any farmer in the United States, with your heritage, just your history, you take great pride in the fact that the products you grow represent that the symbol of freedom and patriotism in this country,” says Keith. “So, naturally, like another American person would be, you feel that you have a part in the symbol. It means an awful lot to a farmer.”

Valley Forge Flags is an American company that’s proud to produce flags made from American-grown cotton.

 “At one point in time, cotton was the preeminent material to make flags in this country,” says Jeff Shaaber, with Valley Forge Flag Company.

 He says while cotton flags aren’t ideal for outdoor use, its strong characteristics make it unique.

“It's natural, and it has a good feel,” says Shaaber. “Some people look at a cotton flag and say there's no other flag than a cotton flag. It does fold well into a triangle, and most of these flags are kept in a shadowbox type, triangular-shaped flag cases.

From military funerals to other uses indoors, cotton flags are a desired product, and one that’s a symbol of freedom, rooted in American grown cotton. And it’s that symbol uniting all with stories of planting the future while harvesting the past

“As a cotton farmer, knowing that the cotton that we grow here in the United States is taken and made into the American flag, means a lot to me,” says Codey. “Reach back in history and think about all the things that that flags been through and what the flag means to the United States of America and our heritage. That's just the strongest symbol of America that I think you can could reach and to that our cotton is going into something that beneficial, and that big, means a lot.”

The cotton crop across the United States is one with a strong meaning, and now with e3, It has an even stronger story to tell.

“I think what we do really well at BASF, and through this program, is our team is helping put a face to cotton,” says Crumpler. “Cotton is not just seen as a product that's out there, or a corporate farmer, because that's not what it is. It's a father, a son, a wife or a mother. Putting that face to it, which our traceability aspect provides, is what is so important and resonates so much.”

From farm to flag, cotton is woven into the fabric of American agriculture. From its tattered past to its modern machines, this versatile fiber is symbol of renewal, reinvention and resilience. For a flag made with purpose, this crop stands ready to grow a future worthy of this great nation.

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