Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or
protective case, around the seeds of the cotton plants of the genus
Gossypium in the mallow family Malvaceae. The fiber is almost pure
cellulose. Under natural conditions, the cotton bolls will increase
the dispersal of the seeds.
The plant is a shrub native to tropical and subtropical regions around
the world, including the Americas, Africa, and India. The greatest
diversity of wild cotton species is found in Mexico, followed by
Australia and Africa.
Cotton was independently domesticated in the
Old and New Worlds.
The fiber is most often spun into yarn or thread and used to make a
soft, breathable textile. The use of cotton for fabric is known to
date to prehistoric times; fragments of cotton fabric dated from 5000
BC have been excavated in
Mexico and between 6000 BC and 5000 BC in
the Indus Valley Civilization. Although cultivated since antiquity, it
was the invention of the cotton gin that lowered the cost of
production that led to its widespread use, and it is the most widely
used natural fiber cloth in clothing today.
Current estimates for world production are about 25 million tonnes or
110 million bales annually, accounting for 2.5% of the world's arable
China is the world's largest producer of cotton, but most of
this is used domestically. The
United States has been the largest
exporter for many years. In the United States, cotton is usually
measured in bales, which measure approximately 0.48 cubic meters (17
cubic feet) and weigh 226.8 kilograms (500 pounds).
2.1 Early history
2.1.1 Indian subcontinent
2.2 Middle Ages
2.2.1 Eastern world
2.3 Early modern period
2.3.1 Mughal India
2.4.2 Industrial Revolution
2.5 United States
3.1 Genetic modification
3.2 Organic production
4 Pests and weeds
6 Competition from synthetic fibers
8 International trade
8.1 Leading producer countries
8.2 Fair trade
8.4 Critical temperatures
9 British standard yarn measures
12 See also
14 Further reading
15 External links
Main article: Types of cotton
There are four commercially grown species of cotton, all domesticated
Gossypium hirsutum – upland cotton, native to Central America,
Caribbean and southern Florida (90% of world production)
Gossypium barbadense – known as extra-long staple cotton,
native to tropical South America (8% of world production)
Gossypium arboreum – tree cotton, native to
India and Pakistan
(less than 2%)
Gossypium herbaceum – Levant cotton, native to southern Africa
and the Arabian Peninsula (less than 2%)
The two New World cotton species account for the vast majority of
modern cotton production, but the two Old World species were widely
used before the 1900s. While cotton fibers occur naturally in colors
of white, brown, pink and green, fears of contaminating the genetics
of white cotton have led many cotton-growing locations to ban the
growing of colored cotton varieties.
Main article: History of cotton
Indus Valley Civilization, Early Phase (3300-2600 BC)
The earliest evidence of cotton use in the
Indian subcontinent has
been found at the site of
Rakhigarhi where cotton threads
have been found preserved in copper beads; these finds have been dated
to Neolithic (between 6000 and 5000 BC).
Cotton cultivation in
the region is dated to the Indus Valley Civilization, which covered
parts of modern eastern
Pakistan and northwestern
India between 3300
and 1300 BC. The Indus cotton industry was well-developed and some
methods used in cotton spinning and fabrication continued to be used
until the industrialization of India. Between 2000 and 1000 BC
cotton became widespread across much of India. For example, it has
been found at the site of Hallus in
Karnataka dating from around 1000
Cotton fabrics discovered in a cave near Tehuacán, Mexico, have been
dated to around 5800 BC. The domestication of
Mexico is dated between 3400 and 2300 BC.
In Peru, cultivation of the indigenous cotton species Gossypium
barbadense has been dated, from a find in Ancon, to c 4200 BC, and
was the backbone of the development of coastal cultures such as the
Norte Chico, Moche, and Nazca.
Cotton was grown upriver, made into
nets, and traded with fishing villages along the coast for large
supplies of fish. The Spanish who came to
Peru in the early
16th century found the people growing cotton and wearing clothing made
The Greeks and the Arabs were not familiar with cotton until the Wars
of Alexander the Great, as his contemporary
Megasthenes told Seleucus
I Nicator of "there being trees on which wool grows" in
"Indica". This may be a reference to "tree cotton",
Gossypium arboreum, which is a native of the Indian subcontinent.
According to the Columbia Encyclopedia:
Cotton has been spun, woven, and dyed since prehistoric times. It
clothed the people of ancient India, Egypt, and China. Hundreds of
years before the Christian era, cotton textiles were woven in India
with matchless skill, and their use spread to the Mediterranean
In Iran (Persia), the history of cotton dates back to the Achaemenid
era (5th century BC); however, there are few sources about the
planting of cotton in pre-Islamic Iran. The planting of cotton was
common in Merv, Ray and Pars of Iran. In Persian poets' poems,
especially Ferdowsi's Shahname, there are references to cotton
("panbe" in Persian).
Marco Polo (13th century) refers to the major
products of Persia, including cotton. John Chardin, a French traveler
of the 17th century who visited Safavid Persia, spoke approvingly of
the vast cotton farms of Persia.
Han dynasty (207 BC - 220 AD), cotton was grown by Chinese
peoples in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan.
Egyptians grew and spun cotton in the first seven centuries of the
Handheld roller cotton gins had been used in
India since the 6th
century, and was then introduced to other countries from there.
Between the 12th and 14th centuries, dual-roller gins appeared in
India and China. The Indian version of the dual-roller gin was
prevalent throughout the Mediterranean cotton trade by the 16th
century. This mechanical device was, in some areas, driven by water
The spinning wheel was invented in India, between 500 and 1000 AD.
The earliest clear illustrations of the spinning wheel come from the
Islamic world in the eleventh century.
Cotton plants as imagined and drawn by
John Mandeville in the 14th
During the late medieval period, cotton became known as an imported
fiber in northern Europe, without any knowledge of how it was derived,
other than that it was a plant. Because
Herodotus had written in his
Histories, Book III, 106, that in
India trees grew in the wild
producing wool, it was assumed that the plant was a tree, rather than
a shrub. This aspect is retained in the name for cotton in several
Germanic languages, such as German Baumwolle, which translates as
"tree wool" (Baum means "tree"; Wolle means "wool"). Noting its
similarities to wool, people in the region could only imagine that
cotton must be produced by plant-borne sheep. John Mandeville, writing
in 1350, stated as fact the now-preposterous belief: "There grew there
[India] a wonderful tree which bore tiny lambs on the endes of its
branches. These branches were so pliable that they bent down to allow
the lambs to feed when they are hungry." (See Vegetable Lamb of
Tartary.) By the end of the 16th century, cotton was cultivated
throughout the warmer regions in Asia and the Americas.
The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary
Cotton manufacture was introduced to Europe during the Muslim conquest
of the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily. The knowledge of cotton weaving
was spread to northern Italy in the 12th century, when Sicily was
conquered by the Normans, and consequently to the rest of Europe. The
spinning wheel, introduced to Europe circa 1350, improved the speed of
cotton spinning. By the 15th century, Venice, Antwerp, and Haarlem
were important ports for cotton trade, and the sale and transportation
of cotton fabrics had become very profitable.
Early modern period
Mughal Empire and
Muslin trade in Bengal
Further information: Economic history of India
A woman in
Dhaka clad in fine Bengali muslin, 18th century.
Under the Mughal Empire, which ruled in the
Indian subcontinent from
the early 16th century to the early 18th century, Indian cotton
production increased, in terms of both raw cotton and cotton textiles.
The Mughals introduced agrarian reforms such as a new revenue system
that was biased in favour of higher value cash crops such as cotton
and indigo, providing state incentives to grow cash crops, in addition
to rising market demand.
The largest manufacturing industry in the
Mughal Empire was cotton
textile manufacturing, which included the production of piece goods,
calicos, and muslins, available unbleached and in a variety of
colours. The cotton textile industry was responsible for a large part
of the empire's international trade.
India had a 25% share of the
global textile trade in the early 18th century. Indian cotton
textiles were the most important manufactured goods in world trade in
the 18th century, consumed across the world from the
Japan. The most important center of cotton production was the
Bengal Subah province, particularly around its capital city of
The worm gear roller cotton gin, which was invented in
Delhi Sultanate era of the 13th–14th centuries, came into
use in the
Mughal Empire some time around the 16th century, and is
still used in
India through to the present day. Another
innovation, the incorporation of the crank handle in the cotton gin,
first appeared in
India some time during the late
Delhi Sultanate or
the early Mughal Empire. The production of cotton, which may have
largely been spun in the villages and then taken to towns in the form
of yarn to be woven into cloth textiles, was advanced by the diffusion
of the spinning wheel across
India shortly before the Mughal era,
lowering the costs of yarn and helping to increase demand for cotton.
The diffusion of the spinning wheel, and the incorporation of the worm
gear and crank handle into the roller cotton gin, led to greatly
expanded Indian cotton textile production during the Mughal era.
It was reported that, with an Indian cotton gin, which is half machine
and half tool, one man and one woman could clean 28 pounds of cotton
per day. With a modified Forbes version, one man and a boy could
produce 250 pounds per day. If oxen were used to power 16 of these
machines, and a few people's labour was used to feed them, they could
produce as much work as 750 people did formerly.
Egypt under Muhammad Ali
In the early 19th century, a Frenchman named M. Jumel propositioned
the then ruler of Egypt, Mohamed Ali Pasha, that he could earn a
substantial income by growing an extra-long staple Maho (Gossypium
barbadense) cotton, in Lower Egypt, for the French market. Mohamed Ali
Pasha accepted the proposition and granted himself the monopoly on the
sale and export of cotton in Egypt; and later dictated cotton should
be grown in preference to other crops.
Egypt under Muhammad Ali in the early 19th century had the fifth most
productive cotton industry in the world, in terms of the number of
spindles per capita. The industry was initially driven by
machinery that relied on traditional energy sources, such as animal
power, water wheels, and windmills, which were also the principle
energy sources in Western Europe up until around 1870. It was
under Muhammad Ali in the early 19th century that steam engines were
introduced to the
Egyptian cotton industry.
By the time of the American Civil war annual exports had reached $16
million (120,000 bales), which rose to $56 million by 1864, primarily
due to the loss of the Confederate supply on the world market. Exports
continued to grow even after the reintroduction of US cotton, produced
now by a paid workforce, and Egyptian exports reached 1.2 million
bales a year by 1903.
Calico Acts and
Textile manufacture during the
English East India Company
English East India Company introduced the Britain to cheap calico
and chintz cloth on the restoration of the monarchy in the 1660s.
Initially imported as a novelty side line, from its spice trading
posts in Asia, the cheap colourful cloth proved popular and overtook
the EIC's spice trade by value in the late 17th century. The EIC
embraced the demand, particularly for calico, by expanding its
factories in Asia and producing and importing cloth in bulk, creating
competition for domestic woollen and linen textile producers. The
impacted weavers, spinners, dyers, shepherds and farmers objected and
the calico question became one of the major issues of National
politics between the 1680s and the 1730s. Parliament began to see a
decline in domestic textile sales, and an increase in imported
textiles from places like
China and India. Seeing the East India
Company and their textile importation as a threat to domestic textile
businesses, Parliament passed the 1700
Calico Act, blocking the
importation of cotton cloth. As there was no punishment for continuing
to sell cotton cloth, smuggling of the popular material became
commonplace. In 1721, dissatisfied with the results of the first act,
Parliament passed a stricter addition, this time prohibiting the sale
of most cottons, imported and domestic (exempting only thread Fustian
and raw cotton). The exemption of raw cotton from the prohibition
initially saw 2 thousand bales of cotton imported annually, to become
the basis of a new indigenous industry, initially producing Fustian
for the domestic market, though more importantly triggering the
development of a series of mechanised spinning and weaving
technologies, to process the material. This mechanised production was
concentrated in new cotton mills, which slowly expanded till by the
beginning of the 1770s seven thousand bales of cotton were imported
annually, and pressure was put on Parliament, by the new mill owners,
to remove the prohibition on the production and sale of pure cotton
cloth, as they could easily compete with anything the EIC could
The acts were repealed in 1774, triggering a wave of investment in
mill based cotton spinning and production, doubling the demand for raw
cotton within a couple of years, and doubling it again every decade,
into the 1840s
Indian cotton textiles, particularly those from Bengal, continued to
maintain a competitive advantage up until the 19th century. In order
to compete with India, Britain invested in labour-saving technical
progress, while implementing protectionist policies such as bans and
tariffs to restrict Indian imports. At the same time, the East
India Company's rule in
India contributed to its deindustrialization,
opening up a new market for British goods, while the capital
amassed from Bengal after its 1757 conquest was used to invest in
British industries such as textile manufacturing and greatly increase
British wealth. British colonization also forced open the
large Indian market to British goods, which could be sold in India
without tariffs or duties, compared to local Indian producers who were
heavily taxed, while raw cotton was imported from
tariffs to British factories which manufactured textiles from Indian
cotton, giving Britain a monopoly over India's large market and cotton
India served as both a significant supplier of
raw goods to British manufacturers and a large captive market for
British manufactured goods. Britain eventually surpassed
the world's leading cotton textile manufacturer in the 19th
India's cotton-processing sector changed during EIC expansion in India
in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. From focusing on supplying
the British market to supplying East Asia with raw cotton. As the
Artisan produced textiles were no longer competitive with those
produced Industrially, and Europe preferring the cheaper slave
produced, long staple American, and Egyptian cottons, for its own
Textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution
The advent of the
Industrial Revolution in Britain provided a great
boost to cotton manufacture, as textiles emerged as Britain's leading
export. In 1738,
Lewis Paul and John Wyatt, of Birmingham, England,
patented the roller spinning machine, as well as the flyer-and-bobbin
system for drawing cotton to a more even thickness using two sets of
rollers that traveled at different speeds. Later, the invention of the
James Hargreaves' spinning jenny in 1764, Richard Arkwright's spinning
frame in 1769 and Samuel Crompton's spinning mule in 1775 enabled
British spinners to produce cotton yarn at much higher rates. From the
late 18th century on, the British city of
Manchester acquired the
nickname "Cottonopolis" due to the cotton industry's omnipresence
within the city, and Manchester's role as the heart of the global
Production capacity in Britain and the
United States was improved by
the invention of the modern cotton gin by the American
Eli Whitney in
1793. Before the development of cotton gins, the cotton fibers had to
be pulled from the seeds tediously by hand. By the late 1700s, a
number of crude ginning machines had been developed. However, to
produce a bale of cotton required over 600 hours of human labor,
making large-scale production uneconomical in the United States, even
with the use of humans as slave labor. The gin that Whitney
manufactured (the Holmes design) reduced the hours down to just a
dozen or so per bale. Although Whitney patented his own design for a
cotton gin, he manufactured a prior design from Henry Odgen Holmes,
for which Holmes filed a patent in 1796. Improving technology and
increasing control of world markets allowed British traders to develop
a commercial chain in which raw cotton fibers were (at first)
purchased from colonial plantations, processed into cotton cloth in
the mills of Lancashire, and then exported on British ships to captive
colonial markets in West Africa, India, and
China (via Shanghai and
By the 1840s,
India was no longer capable of supplying the vast
quantities of cotton fibers needed by mechanized British factories,
while shipping bulky, low-price cotton from
India to Britain was
time-consuming and expensive. This, coupled with the emergence of
American cotton as a superior type (due to the longer, stronger fibers
of the two domesticated Native American species,
Gossypium barbadense), encouraged British traders to purchase
cotton from plantations in the
United States and plantations in the
Caribbean. By the mid-19th century, "King Cotton" had become the
backbone of the southern American economy. In the United States,
cultivating and harvesting cotton became the leading occupation of
During the American Civil War, American cotton exports slumped due to
a Union blockade on Southern ports, and also because of a strategic
decision by the Confederate government to cut exports, hoping to force
Britain to recognize the Confederacy or enter the war. This prompted
the main purchasers of cotton, Britain and France, to turn to Egyptian
cotton. British and French traders invested heavily in cotton
plantations. The Egyptian government of Viceroy Isma'il took out
substantial loans from European bankers and stock exchanges. After the
American Civil War
American Civil War ended in 1865, British and French traders abandoned
Egyptian cotton and returned to cheap American exports,[citation
Egypt into a deficit spiral that led to the country
declaring bankruptcy in 1876, a key factor behind Egypt's occupation
British Empire in 1882.
During this time, cotton cultivation in the British Empire, especially
Australia and India, greatly increased to replace the lost production
of the American South. Through tariffs and other restrictions, the
British government discouraged the production of cotton cloth in
India; rather, the raw fiber was sent to England for processing. The
Indian Mahatma Gandhi described the process:
English people buy Indian cotton in the field, picked by Indian labor
at seven cents a day, through an optional monopoly.
This cotton is shipped on British ships, a three-week journey across
the Indian Ocean, down the Red Sea, across the Mediterranean, through
Gibraltar, across the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean to London.
One hundred per cent profit on this freight is regarded as small.
The cotton is turned into cloth in Lancashire. You pay shilling wages
instead of Indian pennies to your workers. The English worker not only
has the advantage of better wages, but the steel companies of England
get the profit of building the factories and machines. Wages; profits;
all these are spent in England.
The finished product is sent back to
India at European shipping rates,
once again on British ships. The captains, officers, sailors of these
ships, whose wages must be paid, are English. The only Indians who
profit are a few lascars who do the dirty work on the boats for a few
cents a day.
The cloth is finally sold back to the kings and landlords of
got the money to buy this expensive cloth out of the poor peasants of
India who worked at seven cents a day.
Prisoners farming cotton under the trusty system in Parchman Farm,
In the United States, Southern cotton provided capital for the
continuing development of the North. The cotton was largely produced
through the labor of enslaved African Americans. It enriched both the
Southern landowners and the Northern merchants. Much of the Southern
cotton was trans-shipped through northern ports. In this era the
Cotton is king" characterized the attitude of the South toward
Cotton remained a key crop in the Southern economy after emancipation
and the end of the Civil War in 1865. Across the South, sharecropping
evolved, in which landless black and white farmers worked land owned
by others in return for a share of the profits. Some farmers rented
the land and bore the production costs themselves. Until mechanical
cotton pickers were developed, cotton farmers needed additional labor
to hand-pick cotton. Picking cotton was a source of income for
families across the South. Rural and small town school systems had
split vacations so children could work in the fields during
It was not until the 1950s that reliable harvesting machinery was
introduced (prior to this, cotton-harvesting machinery had been too
clumsy to pick cotton without shredding the fibers).
During the first half of the 20th century, employment in the cotton
industry fell, as machines began to replace laborers and the South's
rural labor force dwindled during the World Wars.
Cotton remains a major export of the southern United States, and a
majority of the world's annual cotton crop is of the long-staple
Cotton Field at Singalandapuram, Rasipuram,
A cotton field, late in the season
Cotton plowing in Togo, 1928
Picking cotton in
Armenia in the 1930s. No cotton is grown there
Cotton ready for shipment,
Houston, Texas (postcard, circa 1911)
Cotton modules in
Successful cultivation of cotton requires a long frost-free period,
plenty of sunshine, and a moderate rainfall, usually from 60 to
120 cm (24 to 47 in). Soils usually need to
be fairly heavy, although the level of nutrients does not need to be
exceptional. In general, these conditions are met within the
seasonally dry tropics and subtropics in the Northern and Southern
hemispheres, but a large proportion of the cotton grown today is
cultivated in areas with less rainfall that obtain the water from
irrigation. Production of the crop for a given year usually starts
soon after harvesting the preceding autumn.
Cotton is naturally a
perennial but is grown as an annual to help control pests.
Planting time in spring in the Northern hemisphere varies from the
beginning of February to the beginning of June. The area of the United
States known as the
South Plains is the largest contiguous
cotton-growing region in the world. While dryland (non-irrigated)
cotton is successfully grown in this region, consistent yields are
only produced with heavy reliance on irrigation water drawn from the
Ogallala Aquifer. Since cotton is somewhat salt and drought tolerant,
this makes it an attractive crop for arid and semiarid regions. As
water resources get tighter around the world, economies that rely on
it face difficulties and conflict, as well as potential environmental
problems. For example, improper cropping and
irrigation practices have led to desertification in areas of
Uzbekistan, where cotton is a major export. In the days of the Soviet
Aral Sea was tapped for agricultural irrigation, largely of
cotton, and now salination is widespread.
Cotton can also be cultivated to have colors other than the yellowish
off-white typical of modern commercial cotton fibers. Naturally
colored cotton can come in red, green, and several shades of
Main article: Bt cotton
Genetically modified (GM) cotton was developed to reduce the heavy
reliance on pesticides. The bacterium
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
naturally produces a chemical harmful only to a small fraction of
insects, most notably the larvae of moths and butterflies, beetles,
and flies, and harmless to other forms of life. The gene
coding for Bt toxin has been inserted into cotton, causing cotton,
called Bt cotton, to produce this natural insecticide in its tissues.
In many regions, the main pests in commercial cotton are lepidopteran
larvae, which are killed by the Bt protein in the transgenic cotton
they eat. This eliminates the need to use large amounts of
broad-spectrum insecticides to kill lepidopteran pests (some of which
have developed pyrethroid resistance). This spares natural insect
predators in the farm ecology and further contributes to
noninsecticide pest management.
Bt cotton is ineffective against many cotton pests, however, such
as plant bugs, stink bugs, and aphids; depending on circumstances it
may still be desirable to use insecticides against these. A 2006 study
done by Cornell researchers, the Center for Chinese Agricultural
Policy and the Chinese Academy of Science on
Bt cotton farming in
China found that after seven years these secondary pests that were
normally controlled by pesticide had increased, necessitating the use
of pesticides at similar levels to non-
Bt cotton and causing less
profit for farmers because of the extra expense of GM seeds.
However, a 2009 study by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Stanford
University and Rutgers University refuted this. They concluded
that the GM cotton effectively controlled bollworm. The secondary
pests were mostly miridae (plant bugs) whose increase was related to
local temperature and rainfall and only continued to increase in half
the villages studied. Moreover, the increase in insecticide use for
the control of these secondary insects was far smaller than the
reduction in total insecticide use due to
Bt cotton adoption. A 2012
Chinese study concluded that
Bt cotton halved the use of pesticides
and doubled the level of ladybirds, lacewings and spiders. The
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications
(ISAAA) said that, worldwide, GM cotton was planted on an area of 25
million hectares in 2011. This was 69% of the worldwide total area
planted in cotton.
GM cotton acreage in
India grew at a rapid rate, increasing from
50,000 hectares in 2002 to 10.6 million hectares in 2011. The total
cotton area in
India was 12.1 million hectares in 2011, so GM cotton
was grown on 88% of the cotton area. This made
India the country with
the largest area of GM cotton in the world. A long-term study on
the economic impacts of
Bt cotton in India, published in the Journal
PNAS in 2012, showed that
Bt cotton has increased yields, profits, and
living standards of smallholder farmers. The U.S. GM cotton crop
was 4.0 million hectares in 2011 the second largest area in the world,
the Chinese GM cotton crop was third largest by area with 3.9 million
Pakistan had the fourth largest GM cotton crop area of
2.6 million hectares in 2011. The initial introduction of GM
cotton proved to be a success in Australia – the yields were
equivalent to the non-transgenic varieties and the crop used much less
pesticide to produce (85% reduction). The subsequent introduction
of a second variety of GM cotton led to increases in GM cotton
production until 95% of the Australian cotton crop was GM in 2009
Australia the country with the fifth largest GM cotton crop in
the world. Other GM cotton growing countries in 2011 were
Argentina, Myanmar, Burkina Faso, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, South
Africa and Costa Rica.
Cotton has been genetically modified for resistance to glyphosate a
broad-spectrum herbicide discovered by
Monsanto which also sells some
Bt cotton seeds to farmers. There are also a number of other
cotton seed companies selling GM cotton around the world. About 62% of
the GM cotton grown from 1996 to 2011 was insect resistant, 24%
stacked product and 14% herbicide resistant.
Cotton has gossypol, a toxin that makes it inedible. However,
scientists have silenced the gene that produces the toxin, making it a
potential food crop.
Organic cotton is generally understood as cotton from plants not
genetically modified and that is certified to be grown without the use
of any synthetic agricultural chemicals, such as fertilizers or
pesticides. Its production also promotes and enhances biodiversity
and biological cycles. In the United States, organic cotton
plantations are required to enforce the National Organic Program
(NOP). This institution determines the allowed practices for pest
control, growing, fertilizing, and handling of organic crops.
As of 2007, 265,517 bales of organic cotton were produced in 24
countries, and worldwide production was growing at a rate of more than
50% per year.
Pests and weeds
Main article: List of cotton diseases
Hoeing a cotton field to remove weeds, Greene County, Georgia, US,
Female and nymph
Cotton Harlequin Bug
The cotton industry relies heavily on chemicals, such as herbicides,
fertilizers and insecticides, although a very small number of farmers
are moving toward an organic model of production, and organic cotton
products are now available for purchase at limited locations. These
are popular for baby clothes and diapers. Under most definitions,
organic products do not use genetic engineering. All natural cotton
products are known to be both sustainable and hypoallergenic.
Historically, in North America, one of the most economically
destructive pests in cotton production has been the boll weevil. Due
to the US Department of Agriculture's highly successful Boll Weevil
Eradication Program (BWEP), this pest has been eliminated from cotton
in most of the United States. This program, along with the
introduction of genetically engineered
Bt cotton (which contains a
bacterial gene that codes for a plant-produced protein that is toxic
to a number of pests such as cotton bollworm and pink bollworm), has
allowed a reduction in the use of synthetic insecticides.
Other significant global pests of cotton include the pink bollworm,
Pectinophora gossypiella; the chili thrips, Scirtothrips dorsalis; the
cotton seed bug, Oxycarenus hyalinipennis; the tarnish plant bug,
Lygus lineolaris; and the fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda,
Xanthomonas citri subsp. malvacearum.
Offloading freshly harvested cotton into a module builder in Texas;
previously built modules can be seen in the background
Cotton being picked by hand in India, 2005.
Most cotton in the United States, Europe and
Australia is harvested
mechanically, either by a cotton picker, a machine that removes the
cotton from the boll without damaging the cotton plant, or by a cotton
stripper, which strips the entire boll off the plant.
are used in regions where it is too windy to grow picker varieties of
cotton, and usually after application of a chemical defoliant or the
natural defoliation that occurs after a freeze.
Cotton is a perennial
crop in the tropics, and without defoliation or freezing, the plant
will continue to grow.
Cotton continues to be picked by hand in developing countries.
Competition from synthetic fibers
The era of manufactured fibers began with the development of rayon in
France in the 1890s.
Rayon is derived from a natural cellulose and
cannot be considered synthetic, but requires extensive processing in a
manufacturing process, and led the less expensive replacement of more
naturally derived materials. A succession of new synthetic fibers were
introduced by the chemicals industry in the following decades. Acetate
in fiber form was developed in 1924. Nylon, the first fiber
synthesized entirely from petrochemicals, was introduced as a sewing
thread by DuPont in 1936, followed by DuPont's acrylic in 1944. Some
garments were created from fabrics based on these fibers, such as
women's hosiery from nylon, but it was not until the introduction of
polyester into the fiber marketplace in the early 1950s that the
market for cotton came under threat. The rapid uptake of polyester
garments in the 1960s caused economic hardship in cotton-exporting
economies, especially in Central American countries, such as
Nicaragua, where cotton production had boomed tenfold between 1950 and
1965 with the advent of cheap chemical pesticides.
recovered in the 1970s, but crashed to pre-1960 levels in the early
Cotton is used to make a number of textile products. These include
terrycloth for highly absorbent bath towels and robes; denim for blue
jeans; cambric, popularly used in the manufacture of blue work shirts
(from which we get the term "blue-collar"); and corduroy, seersucker,
and cotton twill. Socks, underwear, and most T-shirts are made from
cotton. Bed sheets often are made from cotton.
Cotton also is used to
make yarn used in crochet and knitting. Fabric also can be made from
recycled or recovered cotton that otherwise would be thrown away
during the spinning, weaving, or cutting process. While many fabrics
are made completely of cotton, some materials blend cotton with other
fibers, including rayon and synthetic fibers such as polyester. It can
either be used in knitted or woven fabrics, as it can be blended with
elastine to make a stretchier thread for knitted fabrics, and apparel
such as stretch jeans.
Cotton can be blended also with linen as
Linen-cotton blends which give benefit of both plant materials which
wrinkle resistant, lightweight, breathable and can keep heat more
effectively than only linen. These blends are thinner and lighter, but
stronger than only cotton.
In addition to the textile industry, cotton is used in fishing nets,
coffee filters, tents, explosives manufacture (see nitrocellulose),
cotton paper, and in bookbinding. The first Chinese paper was made of
cotton fiber. Fire hoses were once made of cotton.
The cottonseed which remains after the cotton is ginned is used to
produce cottonseed oil, which, after refining, can be consumed by
humans like any other vegetable oil. The cottonseed meal that is left
generally is fed to ruminant livestock; the gossypol remaining in the
meal is toxic to monogastric animals. Cottonseed hulls can be added to
dairy cattle rations for roughage. During the American slavery period,
cotton root bark was used in folk remedies as an abortifacient, that
is, to induce a miscarriage.
Gossypol was one of the many substances
found in all parts of the cotton plant and it was described by the
scientists as 'poisonous pigment'. It also appears to inhibit the
development of sperm or even restrict the mobility of the sperm. Also,
it is thought to interfere with the menstrual cycle by restricting the
release of certain hormones.
Cotton linters are fine, silky fibers which adhere to the seeds of the
cotton plant after ginning. These curly fibers typically are less than
1⁄8 inch (3.2 mm) long. The term also may apply to the longer
textile fiber staple lint as well as the shorter fuzzy fibers from
some upland species. Linters are traditionally used in the manufacture
of paper and as a raw material in the manufacture of cellulose. In the
UK, linters are referred to as "cotton wool". This can also be a
refined product (absorbent cotton in U.S. usage) which has medical,
cosmetic and many other practical uses. The first medical use of
cotton wool was by
Sampson Gamgee at the Queen's Hospital (later the
General Hospital) in Birmingham, England.
Shiny cotton is a processed version of the fiber that can be made into
cloth resembling satin for shirts and suits. However, it is
hydrophobic (does not absorb water easily), which makes it unfit for
use in bath and dish towels (although examples of these made from
shiny cotton are seen).
Egyptian cotton is broadly associated with quality products,
however only a small percentage of "Egyptian cotton" products are
actually of superior quality. Most products bearing the name are not
made with cotton from Egypt.
Pima cotton is often compared to Egyptian cotton, as both are used in
high quality bed sheets and other cotton products. It is considered
the next best quality after high quality
Egyptian cotton by some
authorities. Pima cotton is grown in the American southwest. Not all
products bearing the Pima name are made with the finest cotton. The
Pima name is now used by cotton-producing nations such as Peru,
Australia and Israel.
Cotton in a tree
Cotton lisle is a finely-spun, tightly twisted type of cotton that is
noted for being strong and durable. Lisle is composed of two strands
that have each been twisted an extra twist per inch than ordinary
yarns and combined to create a single thread. The yarn is spun so that
it is compact and solid. This cotton is used mainly for underwear,
stockings, and gloves. Colors applied to this yarn are noted for being
more brilliant than colors applied to softer yarn. This type of thread
was first made in the city of Lisle,
France (now Lille), hence its
Worldwide cotton production
The largest producers of cotton, currently (2009), are
India, with annual production of about 34 million bales and 33.4
million bales, respectively; most of this production is consumed by
their respective textile industries. The largest exporters of raw
cotton are the United States, with sales of $4.9 billion, and Africa,
with sales of $2.1 billion. The total international trade is estimated
to be $12 billion. Africa's share of the cotton trade has doubled
since 1980. Neither area has a significant domestic textile industry,
textile manufacturing having moved to developing nations in Eastern
and South Asia such as
India and China. In Africa, cotton is grown by
numerous small holders. Dunavant Enterprises, based in Memphis,
Tennessee, is the leading cotton broker in Africa, with hundreds of
purchasing agents. It operates cotton gins in Uganda, Mozambique, and
Zambia. In Zambia, it often offers loans for seed and expenses to the
180,000 small farmers who grow cotton for it, as well as advice on
Cargill also purchases cotton in Africa for export.
The 25,000 cotton growers in the
United States are heavily subsidized
at the rate of $2 billion per year although
China now provides the
highest overall level of cotton sector support. The future of
these subsidies is uncertain and has led to anticipatory expansion of
cotton brokers' operations in Africa. Dunavant expanded in Africa by
buying out local operations. This is only possible in former British
colonies and Mozambique; former French colonies continue to maintain
tight monopolies, inherited from their former colonialist masters, on
cotton purchases at low fixed prices.
Leading producer countries
Cotton Producing Countries (in metric tonnes)
Source: UN Food & Agriculture Organization
The five leading exporters of cotton in 2011 are (1) the United
States, (2) India, (3) Brazil, (4) Australia, and (5) Uzbekistan. The
largest nonproducing importers are Korea, Taiwan, Russia, and
In India, the states of
Gujarat (17.96%) and
Andhra Pradesh (13.75%) and also Madhya Pradesh are the leading cotton
producing states, these states have a predominantly tropical wet
and dry climate.
In the United States, the state of
Texas led in total production as of
2004, while the state of
California had the highest yield per
Cotton is an enormously important commodity throughout the world.
However, many farmers in developing countries receive a low price for
their produce, or find it difficult to compete with developed
This has led to an international dispute (see United States –
Brazil cotton dispute):
On 27 September 2002,
Brazil requested consultations with the US
regarding prohibited and actionable subsidies provided to US
producers, users and/or exporters of upland cotton, as well as
legislation, regulations, statutory instruments and amendments thereto
providing such subsidies (including export credits), grants, and any
other assistance to the US producers, users and exporters of upland
On 8 September 2004, the Panel Report recommended that the United
States "withdraw" export credit guarantees and payments to domestic
users and exporters, and "take appropriate steps to remove the adverse
effects or withdraw" the mandatory price-contingent subsidy
Brazil was fighting the US through the WTO's Dispute Settlement
Mechanism against a heavily subsidized cotton industry, a group of
four least-developed African countries – Benin, Burkina Faso,
Chad, and Mali – also known as "Cotton-4" have been the leading
protagonist for the reduction of US cotton subsidies through
negotiations. The four introduced a "Sectoral Initiative in Favour of
Cotton", presented by Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaoré during
the Trade Negotiations Committee on 10 June 2003.
In addition to concerns over subsidies, the cotton industries of some
countries are criticized for employing child labor and damaging
workers' health by exposure to pesticides used in production. The
Environmental Justice Foundation
Environmental Justice Foundation has campaigned against the prevalent
use of forced child and adult labor in cotton production in
Uzbekistan, the world's third largest cotton exporter. The
international production and trade situation has led to "fair trade"
cotton clothing and footwear, joining a rapidly growing market for
organic clothing, fair fashion or "ethical fashion". The fair trade
system was initiated in 2005 with producers from Cameroon,
A display from a British cotton manufacturer of items used in a cotton
mill during the Industrial Revolution.
A bale of cotton on display at the
Cotton Museum in
Lake Providence in East Carroll Parish in northeastern Louisiana
Cotton is bought and sold by investors and price speculators as a
tradable commodity on 2 different stock exchanges in the United States
Cotton No. 2 futures contracts are traded on the New York Board of
Trade (NYBOT) under the ticker symbol CT. They are delivered every
year in March, May, July, October, and December.
Cotton futures contracts are traded on the New York Mercantile
Exchange (NYMEX) under the ticker symbol TT. They are delivered every
year in March, May, July, October, and December.
Favorable travel temperature range: below 25 °C (77 °F)
Optimum travel temperature: 21 °C (70 °F)
Glow temperature: 205 °C (401 °F)
Fire point: 210 °C (410 °F)
Autoignition temperature: 360 °C (680 °F) - 425 °C
Autoignition temperature (for oily cotton): 120 °C
A temperature range of 25 to 35 °C (77 to 95 °F) is the
optimal range for mold development. At temperatures below 0 °C
(32 °F), rotting of wet cotton stops. Damaged cotton is
sometimes stored at these temperatures to prevent further
British standard yarn measures
1 thread = 55 in or 140 cm
1 skein or rap = 80 threads (120 yd or 110 m)
1 hank = 7 skeins (840 yd or 770 m)
1 spindle = 18 hanks (15,120 yd or 13.83 km)
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Fairly uniform in width, 12–20 micrometers;
length varies from 1 cm to 6 cm (½ to 2½ inches);
typical length is 2.2 cm to 3.3 cm (⅞ to 1¼ inches).
damage, weaken fibers
resistant; no harmful effects
high resistance to most
Prolonged exposure weakens fibers.
Mildew and rot-producing bacteria damage fibers.
Silverfish damage fibers.
Decomposes after prolonged exposure to temperatures of 150 °C or
Cotton fibers viewed under a scanning electron microscope
The chemical composition of cotton is as follows:
protoplasm, pectins 0.55%
waxes, fatty substances 0.40%
mineral salts 0.20%
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There is a public effort to sequence the genome of cotton. It was
started in 2007 by a consortium of public researchers. Their aim
is to sequence the genome of cultivated, tetraploid cotton.
"Tetraploid" means that its nucleus has two separate genomes, called A
and D. The consortium agreed to first sequence the D-genome wild
relative of cultivated cotton (G. raimondii, a Central American
species) because it is small and has few repetitive elements. It has
nearly one-third of the bases of tetraploid cotton, and each
chromosome occurs only once.[clarification needed] Then, the A genome
of G. arboreum would be sequenced. Its genome is roughly twice that of
G. raimondii. Part of the difference in size is due the amplification
of retrotransposons (GORGE). After both diploid genomes are assembled,
they would be used as models for sequencing the genomes of tetraploid
cultivated species. Without knowing the diploid genomes, the
euchromatic DNA sequences of AD genomes would co-assemble, and their
repetitive elements would assemble independently into A and D
sequences respectively. There would be no way to untangle the mess of
AD sequences without comparing them to their diploid counterparts.
The public sector effort continues with the goal to create a
high-quality, draft genome sequence from reads generated by all
sources. The effort has generated Sanger reads of BACs, fosmids, and
plasmids, as well as 454 reads. These later types of reads will be
instrumental in assembling an initial draft of the D genome. In 2010,
Monsanto and Illumina completed enough Illumina
sequencing to cover the D genome of G. raimondii about 50x. They
announced that they would donate their raw reads to the public. This
public relations effort gave them some recognition for sequencing the
cotton genome. Once the D genome is assembled from all of this raw
material, it will undoubtedly assist in the assembly of the AD genomes
of cultivated varieties of cotton, but much work remains.
Bacterial blight of cotton
Cotton Association (CCA)
Cotton Research and Promotion Act
Diplomacy of the American Civil War#
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Cotton Advisory Committee
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cotton.
Look up cotton in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Cotton
Cotton Council News and Current Events
"Cotton". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
"Cotton". Encyclopædia Britannica. 7 (11th ed.). 1911.
"Cotton". Collier's New Encyclopedia. 1921.
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