Of all organic fibers, organic cotton is one of the most popular. Here are some facts about the growing organic cotton industry.
What is "organic cotton?"
Organic cotton is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment. Organic production systems replenish and maintain soil fertility, reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and build biologically diverse agriculture. Third-party certification organizations verify that organic producers use only methods and materials allowed in organic production. Organic cotton is grown without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. In addition, federal regulations prohibit the use of genetically engineered seed for organic farming. All cotton sold as organic in the United States must meet strict federal regulations covering how the cotton is grown.
How much organic cotton is grown globally?
Organic cotton grown by farmers worldwide increased 152 percent during the 2007-2008 crop year, according to the Organic Cotton Farm and Fiber Report 2008 released by Organic Exchange. As a result, organic cotton production reached 145,872 metric tons (MT), equaling 668,581 bales, grown on 161,000 hectares in 22 countries.
Approximately 60 percent of the total represents expansion of known projects, while the remaining 40 percent represents data from new projects becoming certified or previously unknown projects. According to the report, the production increase was driven in large part by the heightened demand for organic cotton from small- to large-sized retailers around the world.
India took over Turkey’s long-standing position as the leader, seeing its production increase by 292 percent to reach 73,702 MT, or about half of world organic cotton production. Other leading organic cotton producers, according to rank, were Syria, Turkey, China, Tanzania, United States, Uganda, Peru, Egypt and Burkina Faso.
How much organic cotton is grown in the U.S.?
In 2008, U.S. acreage planted with organic cotton increased for second straight year, according to research compiled by the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Analysis of available data found that the total acres planted in organic cotton grew from 8,510 in 2007 to 9,279 in 2008, constituting a nine percent increase.
Harvest acreage figures for 2008 are not yet available. Other findings show 14,025 bales of organic cotton were harvested in 2007, representing a 73 percent increase over the previous year, when the total number of bales was 8,116. The U.S. organic cotton harvest represents about 2.1 percent of total global organic cotton production.
To compile the research, OTA surveyed organic cotton farmers in the United States who grew organic cotton in 2007, and combined those results with acreage and harvest figures from the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative. Ten of 62 farms surveyed returned surveys that met the criteria for analysis. OTA’s survey, funded by Cotton Inc., asked about the types of cotton planted and harvested. Survey respondents planted 2,590 acres of organic upland cotton and 245 acres of organic pima cotton. In 2007, survey respondents harvested 1,716 acres of organic upland cotton and 225 acres of organic pima cotton.
Other survey findings revealed that changes are taking place within the organic cotton market. Organic cotton farmers saw the range in average price they received per pound increase from between $0.85 and $1.25 for organic upland cotton in 2006 to between $1 and $1.50 in 2007. Organic pima cotton farmers saw a similar increase in price, ranging from $1.65 to $2.09 in 2006 to $1.05 to $3 in 2007.
Additional findings from the 2008 survey make clear that several challenges lie ahead for U.S. organic cotton producers. Such producers remain in need of educational and economic resources to support their organic practices and build awareness of and access to high-quality markets for their organic cotton products.
Despite these challenges, survey data and projections from farmers forecast growth in production of U.S. organic cotton during 2009 to approximately 12,000 acres, a 29 percent increase from 2008.
How is the apparel industry involved with organic cotton?
Apparel companies are developing programs that either use 100 percent organically grown cotton, or blend small percentages of organic cotton with conventional cotton in their products. There are a number of companies driving the expanded use of domestic and international organic cotton. For a current list of OTA members with fiber products, visit The Organic Pages Online™ at http://www.ota.com/.
What kinds of products are made using organic cotton?
As a result of consumer interest, organic cotton fiber is used in everything from personal care items (sanitary products, make-up removal pads, cotton puffs and ear swabs), to home furnishings (towels, bathrobes, sheets, blankets, bedding), children's products (toys, diapers), clothes of all kinds and styles (whether for lounging, sports or the workplace), and even stationery and note cards.
In addition, organic cottonseed is used for animal feed, and organic cottonseed oil is used in a variety of food products, including cookies and chips.
How fast is the organic fiber market growing?
In 2006, organic fiber linens and clothing sales in the United States grew by 26 percent over the previous year, to reach $203 million, according to the Organic Trade Association's 2007 Manufacturer Survey. According to the 2006 edition of this survey, women's clothing accounted for 36 percent of total organic fiber consumer sales in 2005, amounting to $57 million in sales. Men's and child/teen clothing grew 56 and 52 percent, respectively, in 2005, while infant's clothing/cloth diapers grew 40 percent and accounted for $40 million in sales.
©Organic Trade Association, Updated February 2009