Cotton is one of the world’s leading agricultural crops. It is a white, fluffy staple fiber that is almost entirely cellulose (about 87-90%).
Cotton has been grown for fiber and food for over 6,000 years. Because the crop is plentiful and economically produced, cotton products are relatively inexpensive. Cotton is very versatile, as its fibers can be used for making clothing, bed sheets, and towels, as well as paper, cooking oil, rope, U.S. currency, and biofuel. Cotton makes up about 2.5% of the world’s arable land.
Cotton fibers are typically classified into three groups based on their staple length: short, long, and extra-long. Short staple cotton fibers are used to make denim jeans, flannels, and other clothing. Long staple fibers have a softer, silkier feel and are typically used for sheets and towels.
Cultivation of Cotton
Unlike fabrics like rayon and polyester, cotton is natural and the cotton industry is constantly making strides towards sustainable farming. Cotton doesn’t require much land or water to grow, and since 1980, farmers are now able to grow almost double the amount of cotton on the same amount of land.
Cotton crops are native to most subtropical parts of the world and have been domesticated independently in other areas. Cotton crops are much larger and tree-like in tropical climates and are much smaller and shrub-like in temperate climates. Cotton yield and fiber vary considerably depending on the climatic conditions. The highest quality cotton can be found in areas with high moisture levels from rainfall or irrigation and dry, warm picking seasons.
Because of a very short optimal window for picking the cotton (as soon as the bolls open), harvesting is best done mechanically. Handpicking, however, produces better cotton because more mature bolls can be selected and it allows for cleaner cotton as the mechanical method picks bolls by suction, taking any dirt and debris with it.
Global Cotton Producers
The ten largest cotton producers in the world are:
- India - 6,188,000 tons
- China - 6,178,318 tons
- United States - 3,593,000 tons
- Pakistan - 2,374,481 tons
- Brazil - 1,412,227 tons
- Uzbekistan - 1,106,700 tons
- Australia - 885,100 tons
- Turkey - 846,000 tons
- Argentina - 327,000 tons
- Greece - 308,000 tons
India, the largest producer of cotton in the world, produces about 6,188,000 tons per year. India’s climate is very favorable for cotton production, specifically in the north part of the country.
China produces about 6,178,318 tons of cotton per year. China has about 7,500 textile companies, producing billions of dollars worth of cotton cloth annually.
The United States is the third-largest producer of cotton. The United States produces about 3,593,000 tons of cotton per year. The leading cotton producers in the U.S. are Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama.