Today, the world uses more cotton than any other fiber, and cotton is a leading cash crop in the U.S. At the farm level alone, the production of each year’s crop involves the purchase of more than $5.3 billion worth of supplies and services. This stimulates business activities for factories and enterprises throughout the country. Processing and handling of cotton after it leaves the farm generates even more business activity. Annual business revenue stimulated by cotton in the U.S. economy exceeds $120 billion, making cotton America’s number one value-added crop.
Cotton is a part of our daily lives from the time we dry our faces on a soft cotton towel in the morning until we slide between fresh cotton sheets at night. It has hundreds of uses, from blue jeans to shoe strings. Clothing and household items are the largest uses, but industrial products account from many thousands of bales.
All parts of the cotton plant are useful. The most important is the fiber or lint, which is used in making cotton cloth. Linters – the short fuzz on the seed – provide cellulose for making plastics, explosives and other products. Linters also are incorporated into high quality paper products and processed into batting for padding mattresses, furniture and automobile cushions.
The cottonseed is crushed in order to separate its three products – oil, meal and hulls. Cottonseed oil is used primarily for shortening, cooking oil and salad dressing. The meal and hulls that remain are used either separately or in combination as livestock, poultry and fish feed and as fertilizer. The stalks and leaves of the cotton plant are plowed under to enrich the soil.
Some cottonseed also is used as high-protein concentrate in baked goods and other food products.