(updated October 2013)
Cotton is a fiber, feed and food crop.
The fiber of a thousand faces and almost as many uses, cotton is noted for its versatility, its appearance, its performance and–above all–its natural comfort. From all types of apparel...to sheets and towels...tarpaulins and tents...cotton in today's fast-moving world is still nature's wonder fiber, providing thousands of useful products and supporting millions of jobs as it moves year after year from field to fabric.
U.S. textile mills have spun almost 3.6 million bales of cotton on average for the past 3 years (2010-2012). That's enough cotton to make over 750 million pairs of jeans.
About two thirds of the harvested crop is composed of the seed, which is crushed to separate its three products–oil, meal and hulls. Cottonseed oil is a common component of many food items, used primarily as a cooking oil, shortening and salad dressing. The oil is used extensively in the preparation of such snack foods as crackers, cookies and chips. The meal and hulls are used as livestock, poultry and fish feed and as fertilizer.
The following are some of the frequently asked questions about cotton:
Texas, whose 3-year average production was almost 5.2 million bales of cotton for the years 2020 through 2022, is the leading cotton-producing state.
Historically, China is the largest grower. China's 3-year average production for the years 2020 through 2022 was approximately 28.6 million bales of cotton. India is second, with 25.5 million bales of production for the same time period. The U.S. is third, with average production of 15.6 million bales of cotton for the years 2020 through 2022.
A bale of cotton weighs about 500 pounds.
Once cotton is harvested, it is stored in modules –which hold 13 to 15 bales–for protection against the weather. Modules are stored in the field or on the gin yard until the cotton is ginned.
Planting begins as early as Feb. 1 in South Texas and as late as June 1 in northern areas of the Cotton Belt.
Three mechanical systems are used to harvest cotton. Cotton picking machines use rotating spindles to pick (twist) the seed cotton from the burr. Doffers then remove the seed cotton from the spindles and drop the seed cotton into the conveying system. Cotton stripping machines use rollers equipped with bats and brushes to knock the open bolls from the plants into a conveyor. A third kind of harvester uses a broadcast attachment similar to a grain header on a combine. All harvesting systems uses air to elevate the seed cotton into a basket where it is stored until it can be dumped into a boll buggy, trailer or module builder.
Harvesting of the crop begins in July in South Texas and extends to late November in more northern climates.
Cotton is grown in 17 states stretching across the southern half of the United States: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
One bale of cotton can make 294 pairs of men’s jeans or 313,600 $100 bills. Other items include:
- 293 Bedspreads, Quilts or Blankets
- 1,809 Men's Knit Shirts
- 1,322 Men’s Woven Shirts
- 1,394 Men's Cotton Trousers
- 2,770 Men's Underwear
- 424 Sheets & Pillowcases
- 8,227 Socks & Hosiery
- 599 Cotton Towels
- 371 Women’s Jeans
- 2,279 Women’s Knit Shirts
- 1,816 Women’s Woven Shirts
- 1,799 Women's Cotton Trousers
- 5,192 Women's Underwear
Cotton is produced on about 16,100 farms in the U.S.
For the years 2020 through 2022, average harvested area was 9.8 million acres, producing an average 15.6 million bales.
The boll weevil is the primary insect enemy of cotton. An adult is ¼ to ½ inch long, appearing tan to dark brown or gray in color, has a hard humpback-shaped shell and the characteristic snout accounting for about ¼ of its length. This pest has plagued U.S. cotton producers since 1892. It can complete an entire lifecycle in three weeks, lay 200 eggs per female–each in a separate cotton square or boll, ensuring the destruction of each–and spread rapidly, covering 40 to 160 miles per year.
Transgenic cotton is a cotton variety genetically altered by the addition of foreign genetic material (DNA) from another variety. Examples include cotton that is resistant to certain insects or herbicides.
In 2022, 95 percent of the U.S. upland crop was planted in transgenic varieties—genetically engineered varieties resistant to worms, herbicides, or both.
From 2020 through 2022, an average of 70 percent of the U.S. cotton supply was exported.
From 2020 through 2022, mills consumed an average of 2.4 million bales per year.
Latest estimates indicate that the cotton industry generates $22 billion in revenues to various industry segments. Cotton's total economic activity is estimated at some $75 billion.
The Seal of Cotton is the registered trademark of Cotton Incorporated, which grants permission for use. Please direct your request to Claire Lawing at: CLawing@cottoninc.com or 919-698-2258.
Tapes of the commercials, which are produced by Cotton Incorporated, may be obtained from Jill Orsini at JOrsini@cottoninc.com or 212.413.8337.
Contact Cotton Incorporated at www.cottoninc.com
National Cotton Council of America Link and Logo Policy
The Council encourages any state, regional or national agricultural organization to link its web site to www.cotton.org. These organizations may use the National Cotton Council logo or simply a line of text such as "The National Cotton Council of America" to provide the link to www.cotton.org.
Member companies providing links to the NCC website and which use the logo or the logo of The Cotton Foundation on their websites must incorporate a statement of membership as part of the logo. The statement should be along the lines of:
In cases where only the NCC logo is used:
- We support the U.S. cotton industry as a member of the National Cotton Council of America.
- We are members of the National Cotton Council of America.
In cases where only the Foundation logo is used:
- We are members of The Cotton Foundation.
- We support The Cotton Foundation.
- We support the U.S. cotton industry as members of The Cotton Foundation.
In cases where both logos are used:
- We support the National Cotton Council of America through our membership in The Cotton Foundation.
- As a member of The Cotton Foundation, we support the U.S. cotton industry and the National Cotton Council of America.
The National Cotton Council links to industry-related sites which provide information and services of interest to its membership. Council members with web sites may submit a request for a link by using our contact form. Requests for links to non-member sites will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Please submit your request online. Be sure to clearly state who you are, the organization you represent and the purpose of use. We appreciate proper attribution.
These companies sell bolls and bales. Please place your order directly with either:
- Little Bales of Cotton at 800.748.9112,
- www.cottonman.com or
- Floral Cotton www.floralcotton.com 301.200.1999
Check your local phone book for a cotton gin or cotton producer in your area.
Contact a mill directly. If you need assistance determining which fabric a particular mill produces, go to Cotton Incorporated's FABRICAST website at https://www.cottoninc.com/quality-products/fabrics/fabricast-collections/.
Contact Cotton Council International at www.cottonusa.org or the American Cotton Shippers Association at www.ACSA-Cotton.org
Contact the National Cottonseed Products Association at www.cottonseed.com
Several companies are licensed to sell these products. Please place your order directly with one of the following:
- Rosalyn Smith Designs 901.476.3584 www.cottonspecialties.com or 673 Poindexter Rd., Brighton, TN 38011 (auto tags, caps, apparel, notepads, trailer hitch covers, travel bags, novelty items)
- Chris Chaney Creations & Gift 915.263.7923 www.agrijewelry.com or 1706 S. Gregg Street, Big Spring, TX 79720-4524 (ladies' and men's rings, pendants, cuff links, charms)
- Overton Specialty, 662.563.3762 1591 or Seven Rd., Batesville, MS 38606 (100% cotton t-shirts, baseball caps, golf shirts)
- Jass Signs & Graphix Inc. (aka Tags-n-T's) 478.231.4548 www.jassgraphix.com or 9 Lovely Grove Church Rd., Eastman, GA 31023 (license tags, trailer hitch covers, stickers)
- Russell Sales 662.538.4190 or P.O. Box 629, New Albany, MS 38652 (auto tags, caps, t-shirts)