U.S. Cotton Fiber Economics

White Cotton Yarns

U.S. cotton is the world’s premium cotton fiber. The United States devotes more resources than any other country in producing consistent, high quality, reliable product. Textile products made with a majority of U.S. cotton have an advantage. U.S. manufactured yarns and fabrics contain 100% U.S. cotton. When you buy U.S. manufactured cotton yarns and fabrics for your apparel manufacturing operations, you are starting with the best raw materials, beginning with U.S. cotton fiber.

Enclosed is information on the U.S. cotton industry and why you should choose products made with a majority of U.S. cotton.


U.S. & World Supply, Demand, and Price Statistics (PDF)

Introduction to the U.S. Cotton Industry

Yarns and fabrics manufactured in the United States contain 100% U.S. cotton. By using U.S. raw cotton as the base ingredient for cotton apparel products, manufacturers will have advantages over cottons of other origins. U.S. cotton growers use hard work and superior technology to produce the world’s highest quality cotton. Since the mid-1980s, the fiber produced by the U.S. cotton grower has undergone an enormous transformation. U.S. upland cotton is now longer, whiter, finer, stronger and cleaner. These improvements are the result of an effective communications effort among textile manufacturers, cotton growers and seed breeders.

Today the $6 billion U.S. cotton farming industry includes 35,000 business enterprises that employ some 170,000 individuals. Seven countries produce over 70 percent of the world’s total supply of cotton. They are United States, China, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, and Australia. The U.S. usually ranks number one in terms of trade of raw cotton fiber. Of the cotton grown in the United States, about 75% is exported around the world with the balance used by U.S. textile mills.

The importance and the shear size of the U.S. cotton farming industry has resulted in an unprecedented commitment to fund research and development projects that are directed towards improving the production, marketing and ultimately, the performance of U.S. cotton in textile and apparel manufacturing. No other cotton producing country in the world can match the annual $200 million public and private investment level of the U.S. cotton industry.

As the chosen supplier to the world’s leading textile mills the U.S. raw cotton fiber industry understands that cotton fiber quality is essential to high-tech spinning operations. Modern textile mills using the latest technologically advanced equipment require fiber that spins into consistent, high-strength yarn at speeds unheard of in the past.

As spinning and fabric forming speeds increased, perhaps the greatest demand on fiber was to increase strength. U.S. cotton’s strength increased to an average close to 29.0 grams/tex in 1999 from 26 in 1984. Fiber length also made great strides. Just 10 years ago, the average cotton fiber was 1 and 1/16 inches long. Today, the trend line average for U.S. cotton fiber length is 1 and 3/32 inches. The longer fiber allows for the application of more twist during spinning. The increase in twist produces yarn and fabric strong enough to knit and weave high quality cotton fabrics which are used to create some of the world’s best apparel and home fashion products.

Fiber fineness, also known as micronaire and color qualities have improved as well. Micronaire is an important factor in determining the fineness of a yarn and key to producing yarns for knit fabric formers. Improved color makes the job of dyeing the yarn much easier. Most U.S. cotton now classes as a white grade, the easiest fiber to dye, as compared to spotted or tinged grade. A comparison of the classing data from the last 10 years illustrates that the U.S. cotton producing industry has truly become a “one-stop” supermarket of cottons.

U.S. Cotton Production Overview

The key to producing quality yarn starts with the selection and blending of raw cotton fiber. Each year cotton buyers in every U.S. textile mill studies closely the development of the U.S. crop and pays particular attention to the class and grade of cottons that are grown in the four primary growing regions of the U.S. Textile mills will blend cotton styles from various regions to produce yarn that has the right performance characteristics for their customers.

The U.S. “Cotton Belt” includes eighteen states that stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. The largest producing states are Texas, California, and Mississippi. Cotton is planted in the United States in the spring and harvested in the fall each year. After harvesting, the cotton is processed at the cotton gin to remove the fiber or “lint” from the fiber. The fiber is then packaged in 480-pound bales. Of the total U.S. raw cotton production, around 75% is exported to textile mills around the world. China is the largest export market for U.S. raw cotton, followed by Mexico and Turkey. Within the Western Hemisphere, US raw cotton is also exported to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

The Southeast, the home of the U.S. textile industry, and the Mid-South produce medium staple length cotton that is used to produced carded or combed ring or open end yarns from NE 6 to 40 count. The Southwest produces primarily shorter staple cotton used to produce carded coarse count open-end yarns from NE 1-18. The West is the center of the U.S. long and extra long staple cotton. Acala style cotton, known as SJV for the San Joaquin Valley of California and Pima cotton grown in the West are used to produce fine count ring spun yarns from NE 30 to 80 count.

U.S. yarn spinners can provide you with high-performance quality yarns suitable to your needs regardless of whether you are looking for carded coarse count open-end yarns or fine combed ring spun yarns. You can be assured that the yarns and fabrics manufactured in the U.S. are made with the highest quality raw fiber made in the USA. By using the best raw materials, US cotton yarns and fabrics are second to none.

Ginning U.S. Cotton for Quality

The U.S. cotton industry is dedicated to supplying the world with the highest quality fiber available in the international market. The industry’s significant investment in new technology, educational programs and implementation of stringent industry standards demonstrates that dedication to excellence. U.S. research and development programs are second to none.

The majority of U.S. cotton is harvested in the fall months. Once harvested, the lint must be separated from the seed in order for the fiber to be used by textile mills. This process is known as ginning and it can have a tremendous impact on the quality of the fiber, which in turn can effect the quality of the yarn, fabrics and ultimately garments made with this fiber.

The United States spends a lot of research time and dollars studying and improving the ginning process. In the United States, new gin technology is the result of vast scientific knowledge and research. U.S. gins play an important part in the adoption of emerging technologies. Field tests are conducted in cooperation with the public research community and commercial suppliers focusing on improving fiber quality, employee safety and process efficiency, while reducing the impact on the environment.

Three U.S. federal ginning laboratories conduct research which results in technology development and process recommendation to optimize fiber quality. Highlights of the most recent and significant research developments from the ginning laboratories include:

  • Computerized Gin Process Control

-controls the cotton ginning process to optimize grower monetary returns and mill fiber quality.

  • The Coupled Lint Cleaner

-removes trash comparable to two stages of saw type lint cleaning but with fewer short fibers and fewer neps. The cleaner is a financially accessible technology that can be retrofit to any modern gin stand.

  • Belt Conveyor Drier

-uses a slow-speed, perforated conveying belt to slowly dry the cotton and preserve the fiber quality.

U.S. gins are vertically integrated, providing gin processing, bale warehousing, lint and cottonseed marketing and crop input sales and application. The gins focus on improving fiber quality to increase the value of U.S. cotton for consumers. U.S. cotton industry’s Quality Task Force oversees quality measurement improvement and the removal of financial disincentives that hinder higher quality to ensure that improvements in the U.S. cotton ginning process are ongoing.

U.S. Cotton Fiber Classification System

The U.S. Cotton textile industry as well as any textile mill around the world using U.S. raw cotton depends on reliable fiber classification data for manufacturing cotton yarns and fabrics. This contributes to a cotton textile mill’s ability to acquire, warehouse, and utilize cotton in a cost-effective manner.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides the cotton classification service to the U.S. cotton farmer and this data is available to the textile mills using U.S. cotton. Working with the U.S. cotton industry, the USDA continually strives to improve its record of reliability and sustainability. In fact, 98 percent of all U.S. cotton is submitted for processing through the USDA classification system. Because the USDA gets the same results repeatedly using the same measuring procedures, the classification system provides just that….reliable and dependable data.

The United States cotton industry is the only country in the world to use sophisticated technology, known as High Volume Instruments (HVI), in the classification process. These machines are able to give extensive data on the length, strength, fineness, and uniformity of the fiber…..data that allows U.S. textile mills to select the proper raw materials for their yarns and fabrics and insure consistent quality of their final products.

Working with the U.S. cotton industry and the HVI manufactures, USDA has established the most effective techniques for reliable cotton quality information to help meet the needs of the world’s textile and apparel manufacturers. Proper conditioning maintains consistency in operations. The U.S. industry adopted atmospheric standards that exceed the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the International Standards Organization (ISO). All cotton classing laboratories and conditioning rooms maintain the same levels for temperature and relative humidity.

Standardization ensures consistency and reliability in cotton grading. The Standardization unit of the U.S. Cotton Program provides the globally accepted standards that serve as the basis for consistent cotton classification worldwide. Additionally, the standards facilitate and promote commerce in U.S. grown upland cotton.

To deliver fast and efficient classing information, the U.S. cotton industry maintains a National Database in Memphis, TN. The National Database provides telecommunication of classing data to cotton owners and agents available to all customers of U.S. cotton.

To assure a consistent level of testing among classing offices, approximately one percent on all U.S. classed in each office is randomly selected for re-testing in the Quality Assurance Unit. A computer program selects each checklot samples after the grades have been assigned and quality data cannot be altered on the checklot samples once it has been selected.

Additionally, the U.S. cotton industry works with domestic and international associations in pursuit of uniform HVI fiber quality measurements by working with the HVI Check Test Program and the International HVI Level Assessment Program.

The investigation of new innovations and the research into future developments for the cotton classing system is essential to improving the reliability of U.S. cotton quality measurements. Working to find better and more efficient means to provide classification services is a priority of the U.S. cotton program. All of these efforts results in more consistent yarns and fabrics that are desired by the world’s garment manufacturing industries.

U.S. Cotton Fiber Marketing System

The entire U.S. raw cotton marketing supply chain works to supply quality fiber to textile mills in the United States and around the world. The American cotton trade is a complicated business, which is well over 100 years old. In recent years there have been significant changes in the way U.S. cotton is exported, brought on by advances in communication technologies, shipping techniques and the classification of fiber by instrument. All in all, these advances have enhanced the U.S. cotton industry’s ability to ensure that the service provided to the world’s textile mills is unsurpassed.

Textile mills buying U.S. raw cotton generally purchase it from two types of suppliers, U.S. cotton merchants (members of the American Cotton Shippers Association) and U.S. marketing cooperatives (members of AMCOT). U.S. cotton merchants are private firms, which buy cotton in the United States and sell it to overseas mills. U.S. cotton marketing cooperatives are producer-owned organizations, which sell cotton, produced by the member producers to mills overseas.

Modern, fast communications have revolutionized the cotton business. Mill fiber buyers and cotton exporters have virtually equal access to important supply/demand and price information. This has made the process for offering cotton on the world market, as well as for submission/ acceptance of bids, considerably more efficient than in the past. Cotton may be offered “on call” or “fixed price.” When cotton is offered “on call,” the price is based on premiums or discounts (“on” or “off”) in a certain month of the New York Board of Trade. The base price of the cotton will remain unfixed until the buyer instructs the seller to buy (“fix”) futures in order to establish the final contract price by adding the New York futures fixation level to the contract “on call,” “on” or “off” basis.

The sales price of a fixed price contract is final at conclusion of the sale and does not change — regardless of fluctuations in the New York Cotton Exchange futures market prices. Business results mostly from firm offers, or mill inquiries and bids received from abroad. The natural evolution of improved communication facilities is that often times business is concluded via a phone call between the buyer and the seller (or his agent). It is the foundation of the cotton trade that this verbal commitment is contractually binding. This verbal commitment is reconfirmed in writing by either telex or facsimile direct through the local sales agent. The seller then prepares the typed contract form and sends it to the buyer (or agent for submission to the buyer), that signs it and returns it to the seller. This formal contract is the written record for both parties of the previously agreed upon terms of the business.

Quantity can be specified in bales, pounds or in metric tons. It is generally understood that the quantity stated in the contract is subject to a tolerance of 3 percent, more or less, to account for differences in bale weight, etc. If bales are stated in the contract, it is usually understood that the average net weight should be about 500 pounds. Growth specifies the origin of the cotton to be supplied, such as exported. SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY (SJV), CALIFORNIA/ARIZONA, ORLEANS/TEXAS, MEMPHIS/EASTERN TERRITORY. Cotton quality description should include grade (i.e. trash content), color, staple (length), micronaire and strength (if applicable).

In summary, U.S. raw cotton trader has evolved into the most efficient exporter of cotton in the world. The reliability and the dependability of U.S. cotton merchandising companies and the efficiencies of our transportation, banking and risk management infrastructure has proven to be very cost efficient. The U.S. textile industry is an important customer of U.S. cotton fiber and the U.S. cotton marketing system works to insure the timely delivery of high quality fiber to insure the production of quality yarns and fabrics.

U.S. textile companies have partnered with Cotton Council International and Cotton Incorporated and have committed themselves to increase the trade of cotton yarns and fabrics between the United States and the nations of the Western Hemisphere under the COTTON USA Sourcing Program

The COTTON USA Sourcing Program began in 2000 in anticipation of the passage of the CBTPA. The purpose is to facilitate trade between U.S. cotton textile manufacturers and garment manufacturers. Following the passage of the ATPDEA in 2002, the Sourcing Program was expanded to include activities in the Andean region. Our hope is that this program will invigorate local economic growth in the regional countries, create jobs, and foster mutually beneficial trade between the regional textile industries and the U.S. cotton and cotton textile industry for years to come.

These leading textile mills, weavers and knitters are part of the organized effort on behalf of the U.S. cotton industry to develop relationships with you. Among these companies, you should be able to find products to suit all of your manufacturing needs.

Permanent Bale Identification of U.S. Cotton

The United States cotton industry has worked aggressively to improve handling and storage efficiencies and reduces operating costs of the movement of raw fiber throughout its supply chain. In 1998 the United States industry adopted a standard identifier of each bale of raw cotton. This not only assists the U.S. cotton industry in moving toward more electronic processing of information but also minimizes record-keeping errors. This system is called Permanent Bale Identification or PBI. The PBI system allows textile mill customers of U.S. raw cotton to streamline their receiving and inventory operations.

The PBI effort begin in 1996 when a Task Force was established by the U.S. cotton industry within the membership of the National Cotton Council. The Task Force was asked to investigate how a single identifier could be developed for every bale of US produced cotton. The PBI system involves placing a permanent, unique number on each bale of cotton at its origination point — the cotton gin. It is placed on each bale in a standard tag format and will remain on the bale throughout the entire handling and marketing process.

The PBI Task Force felt several operating principles were important to define in this initial stage of the effort. First, gin numbering series can no longer be repeated each year. This is the most essential element of the PBI system. To ensure that no PBI number will be duplicated over a specified time period, USDA agreed to expand its traditional monitoring of bale numbers used by gins from one year to five years. Therefore, beginning with the 1997 crop, bale numbers used by gins cannot be repeated for a five year period. In subsequent years, gins are required to pick up the number series and not repeat numbers used in previous years.

Also, the Task Force understood the importance of minimizing disruption of internal business operations at warehouses, so the PBI system permits warehouse receipting and sampling practices to remain unchanged. Gin/warehouse operations using a “one-tag” system need to continue to provide warehouse code and warehouse bale number on a coupon in the sample that goes to the buyer. Warehouses observe that PBI tags arrive on bales and ensure they remain on the bale when it moves out of the warehouse. Mills ensure the PBI tags remain on rejected bales.

The PBI system focuses on two major areas — the number and the tag format. The number is 12-digits — a combination of the 5-digit gin code and the 7-digit gin bale number. This combination ensures that each bale has its own unique identifier that will not be found on any other bale. The PBI tag format focuses on the components that are common throughout the industry and provides gins the flexibility to include other components — such as additional coupons — that are needed for their own business purposes. The format includes a stub — which will remain on the bale at all times — and coupons or “tear-offs” that will be needed by Mills and USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Each tag has a USA identification. The USA designation to clearly distinguish the bale as a bale produced in the USA. The “Permanent Bale Id” wording and also printing “Do Not Remove” will serve to indicate this is the PBI tag and should remain on the bale at all times. The number is printed in the traditional components — gin code and gin bale number in small eye-readable number but for automation purposes are also represented in a large code-128 barcode as a single 12-digit number. Also, for internal handling purposes, the 7-digit bale number is provided in a large eye-readable format. The format also provides for “blank” space for general use.

The PBI system is voluntary. However, it is important to recognize that the U.S. cotton industry has worked together to develop the PBI system and textile manufacturers will begin requesting it in their contracts each crop year. It is just another example of the continual innovation of the U.S. cotton industry. The entire industry is dedicated to using all resources to provide the best product at the lowest cost in the most efficient way. You can be assured that yarns and fabrics containing a majority of U.S. cotton benefit from these advances.

Zero Contamination of U.S. Cotton Fiber

The US Cotton Industry is committed to the task of providing our textile mill customers clean, unadulterated natural cotton fibers which leads to contamination free yarns, fabrics, and garments. In order to satisfy our customers needs, the National Cotton Council leads the U.S. industry in its battle against contamination in all forms. Much of that effort focuses on the first handler of the cotton fiber, the cotton growers and ginners.

The National Cotton Council has an extensive educational program to address all aspects of cotton fiber contamination problems. The Council publishes articles and sends press releases to the media reminding growers and ginners to maintain their vigilance and strive to eliminate contamination. Starting with the farmer who grows and harvests the cotton, educational pamphlets are part of the National Cotton Council’s recent efforts to educate growers about their role in preventing contamination. A new poster entitled “Cotton 100% natural Let’s keep it that way” was recently distributed across the U.S. Cotton Belt. Extensive educational material is also used at gin schools held at USDA Ginning Laboratories and other facilities across the U.S. cotton belt to train gin personnel to recognize and eliminate potential sources of contamination at their gin plants.

Complimenting these campaigns are efforts by the Member Service Representatives of the National Cotton who are in daily contacts with cotton producers and ginners. These representatives work with regional producer and ginner organizations making sure the message gets through that growers and ginners are the key to eliminating many contamination problems. Often these programs take the form of booths at trade shows attended by cotton growers and ginners. At these events textile goods ruined by lint contamination are exhibited. Photographs are displayed documenting contamination problems in fields and at harvest. As a result, growers and ginners are in a position to recognize the sources of contamination and take action to eliminate contaminants thus preserving their cottons’ quality.

At the same time, the Joint Cotton Industry Bale Packaging Committee (JCIBPC) has led the effort to prevent lint contamination. The JCIBPC seeks to provide our industry with bale wrapping and tying materials that protects the integrity of the cotton bale and minimizes the possibility of contamination once the bale leaves the gin yard. For example wire tie specifications require the use of rust inhibitors to protect lint from contamination. Also, polypropylene woven bagging materials must be laminated or strip laminated with coatings that prevent “fibrillation”, a potential source of contamination at the textile mill.

These programs are all aimed to educated the U.S. cotton growers, ginners, and textile manufactures on the importance of contamination free products. It is another assurance that buyers of U.S. cotton products have that they are receiving are of the highest quality.

Using Science to Improve U.S. Cotton Productivity

Great progress has been made in understanding the workings of genes after the discovery of the structure of DNA. These advances made possible conventional breeding programs that have contributed more to cotton plant improvement than any other plant science. These advances hold open the possibility of great new opportunities in cotton plant development, as well as new concerns about risks to human health and the environment, which for cotton have been shown to be unfounded so far.

Molecular techniques, known as “recombinant DNA technology”, are now available to isolate genes from plants, insects, animals, and microorganisms and insert them into other organisms. The application of these biotechnology techniques to produce genetically engineered (GE) cotton plants started about two decades ago, and the first GE cotton was planted on a commercial scale in 1996/97 in Australia and the USA.

Currently, two types of genetically engineered cottons are available for commercial cultivation, cotton resistant to bollworms, know as Bt cotton, and herbicide-tolerant cotton. Since its introduction in 1996, GE cotton has been one of the most rapidly adopted technologies ever. An estimated 12% of world cotton area was planted to genetically engineered cotton in 1999/2000 in Argentina, Australia, China (Mainland), Mexico, South Africa and the USA.

The primary benefits from using GE cotton include reduced insecticide use and lower production costs, improved yields, lower farming risks and increased opportunities to grow cotton in areas of severe pest infestation. Secondary benefits include higher populations of beneficial insects and wildlife in cotton fields, reduced pesticide runoff and air pollution, improved farm worker and neighbor safety, reductions in labor and fuel use, and improved soil quality.

The impacts of GE cotton on human health and the environment have been investigated. Regulatory agencies and academies of science in Argentina, Australia, Canada, China (Mainland), Japan, Mexico, South Africa and the USA have concluded that GE cotton does not pose any different risks to human or animal health than non-GE cotton. Regulatory agencies have also determined that the potential for cross-pollination between GE cotton varieties and other plants is very small.

The application of GE technology in cotton is not limited to the development of insect resistance and herbicide tolerance. Genetic engineering may also be used to produce drought-resistant varieties, thus expanding the reach of cotton production. Alternatively, desirable characteristics might be added to cotton, such as increased fineness, higher strength, increased flame resistance, improved wrinkle recovery in fabric, or desirable colors, potentially reducing the need for chemical dyes. Many other uses of GE technology have yet to be thought of. The U.S. cotton industry continues to stay on the forefront of technology to maintain the advantages of U.S. cotton in the world marketplace.

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