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Growing cotton is probably something that you are interested in (obviously when you are here). But, you probably don’t know where to start, and how to do it. I have compiled all the information I can find on everything you need to know about how to grow cotton and start cotton farming.
If we pause and think for a minute, we will realize that cotton ranks very high among materials, especially when it comes to affordable prices, variety, and availability. Most underwear, T-shirts, socks, shirts, pants, and jackets are made of cotton, in whole or in part, and surround us in the home – as an integral part of towels, sheets, rugs, and furniture. It is very difficult to imagine a world without copious amounts of this material.
Although cotton is a universal material in the textile industry, it can be of varying quality and play a very important and slightly hidden role in international trade and as such should not be taken for granted. We will give a brief overview of the essential characteristics of cotton, its history, method of origin, how to farm cotton, and production.
Table of content:
- Cotton throughout history
- How is cotton made?
- Morphological properties of cotton
- Best cotton features
- Agro-ecological conditions for cotton growing
- Agrotechnics for cotton farming
- Cotton production and fabric use
- What is Organic Cotton?
- Organic or conventional cotton
- Cotton materials
- Organic cotton materials
- Skin reaction
- GMO Cotton Seeds as Food for Humans? The US gave the green light
Cotton throughout history
Grown over 7000 years, cotton is one of the most important crops for fiber production. It is a soft, fluffy sorted fiber (pure cellulose) that grows in a ball. The plant is a shrub, native to tropical and subtropical areas around the world, including in the Americas, Africa, and India. With the aim of controlling numerous pests, cotton is grown as a one-year crop.
Cotton is by many things the most important fiber for fabric making. First of all, cotton is cheap, pliable, and easily threaded. It does not require special care, it is well washed and long-lasting. Cotton products were known in India and Central America 7000 years ago. When they first saw cotton, Europeans described it as a wool-like fiber. At that time, due to its cost, it was accessible only to the wealthy. When Columbus set out to find a way to India, one of his goals was to find, among other valuables, cotton.
Cotton has played an equally important role in the development of the economy of the United States of America. Eli Whitney developed and patented the first modern cotton gin in 1793. However, only his invention of the machine led to the separation of seeds from the so-called white “ball”, which led to greater profits.
Before the gin machine, it took 600 hours of work separating the seed and the ball to produce one bale of cotton. Gin lowered his work hour to 12 hours, and as a direct result, cotton production in the United States nearly quadrupled, especially between 1830 and 1850.
This created a dependency between agriculture and slavery, significantly impacted the economy of the southern regions and the success of traders from the north, and it is precisely this sequence of events that is considered an indirect cause of the Civil War.
Throughout this period, the American South provided two-thirds of the world’s cotton that was on the market and was held responsible for instigating the Industrial Revolution that followed. After the abolition of slavery, cotton was still the most represented crop of the South, and manual labor finally became extinct in the 1950s with the advent of full mechanization.
Cotton is used in almost every country in the world, but cultivation itself is restricted to countries with warm and humid climates. The country with the largest cotton production in the world is India, it is followed by the United States, and China. Their soils are extremely well suited for agriculture and cotton growing.
Within the United States, the Southern states traditionally harvest the largest quantities of cotton. This region was formerly known as the ‘Cotton Belt’, where cotton was the predominant cash crop from the 18th to the 20th century.
Long fiber or lint is most used in the production of clothing, textiles for various uses, threads, but also in the paper, filter, and fishing nets industries. Short fiber or linter is used to make cotton wool, wicks, film strips, synthetic leather, plastic materials, and smokeless gunpowder.
The fiber can withstand high temperatures and has a high absorption capacity, so it is also used to produce specialty technical fabrics in the automotive and aircraft industries. 220 pounds of raw cotton (fibers and seeds together) yield about 70 pounds of long fiber, 2 pounds of short fiber, and 147 pounds of seed.
Cottonseed contains 17 – 19% of oil, which is used for making soap, stearin, glycerin, and if refined, it can also be used for the production of margarine and canned oil. The stem can be used to make construction materials and various cardboard.
How is cotton made?
Cotton bushes create puffy white balls that are still hand-picked in countries like Egypt and India. This creates a higher quality final product because the fibers are not treated the same as when harvested with machines. Once harvested, they undergo machining during which seeds, leaves, and twigs are removed.
This is followed by picking the fibers and combine them to remove the shorter fibers as well as straightening them. They then fit into circular molds and form the shape of a large yarn. In this condition, the cotton is ready for weaving, and further finishing steps can be taken to increase the quality of the weaving and its durability.
What is not known is that the production, weaving, and finishing processes of cotton treatment are harmful to the environment. As a crop, cotton is grown in many places where the natural amount of rain that falls annually is not enough and as a result, the industry is heavily dependent on irrigation, as well as the chemicals used to keep pests at bay. In fact, 25% of the world’s insecticides are used in cotton fields.
Today, the vast majority of crops originate from genetically modified cotton seeds, indicating that considerable effort has been made to reduce pesticides in use. The logical consequence of the event is the emergence of organic crops that use neither chemicals nor genetically modified seeds.
Despite the negative effects that cotton production brings with it (exploitation of workers in Uzbekistan, salinization of land in the former Soviet Union, for example), there are also positive aspects: cotton can be recycled, and even if discarded as waste, will naturally decompose.
Morphological properties of cotton
Cotton has a well-developed root system. The main root is spindly and quickly penetrates the soil. The stem is strong, erect, and branches. Depending on the type of cotton, it grows between 30 and 80 inches, and perennial cotton up to 235 inches. It hardens and becomes tough at the end of vegetation. The leaf is simple and shoots from the knuckle stem and shoots.
The plait consists of 3 – 5 lobes, which can be different in shape, green in color and some varieties have reddish shades. The flower is bisexual and large. One or more of them erupt from the leaf armpit. The flowers are light yellow to cream in color and have one spot of red on the inside. The flower opens in the morning and closes the second day and drops off.
Cotton is a self-fertilizing plant with a high percentage of fertilization, up to 50%. The fruit is round, ovoid with a more or less pointed tip. It consists of 3 – 5 nests containing up to 9 irregular pear-shaped seeds and a pointed tip. A mature bullet shoots from top to bottom and a fiber erupts from it. The weight of 1,000 seeds, depending on the type and variety of cotton, varies from 3 to 5 oz.
Best cotton features
The quality of the cotton is mainly a reflection of the length of the yarn and the variety of the plant from which the cotton originated. The names given to the cotton species do not necessarily indicate the country of origin, which is generally not even indicated during the final sales process. Only the highest quality of cotton is used for marketing purposes. If you can remember, Sea island, Egyptian, and Pima cotton come from the Gossypium barbadense plant and give very long fibers and soft and silky fabric.
- Sea Island Cotton: Extra-long, growing on the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia, where the magic trio: sun, moisture, and rain, creates ideal conditions for growing this plant.
- West Indian Sea Island Cotton: Grows in the Caribbean under ideal conditions. It is considered a cashmere among cotton and in some cases is even more expensive than cashmere. The product is protected by the World Trade Organization’s designation of origin, just like champagne in France. Although it is an extraordinary product, it seems that locals do not do much to protect it and continue to penetrate the market.
- Egyptian cotton: not related to the longest yarn, quality, and variety of the plant. This just makes the textiles softer and more durable, and the most commonly made of this type of cotton are towels and linens (sheets and quilts).
- Giza cotton: It forms a small part of Egyptian cotton, and the measure of quality is denoted by numbers 90, 89, etc. The best Giza cotton is numbered 45, characterized by superior fineness and uniform fibers. It is grown under ideal conditions, along the Nile River, and is harvested and combed by hand.
- Pima cotton: Also known as “American Pima”, it was named after a Native American tribe in southwestern America that helped breed Gossypium barbadense, an extra-long fiber species. Pima cotton accounts for about 5% of total U.S. production.
- Supima cotton: A shortened version of extra-quality Pima, and unlike it, does not designate a plant type but an organization that promotes Pima cotton worldwide.
- Organic cotton: refers to any kind that has not been treated with pesticides and chemicals while growing. Regulatory bodies in Japan, the European Union, and the United States oversee the implementation of organic production regulations.
How to Grow Cotton
Agro-ecological conditions for cotton growing
Cotton can be grown in areas where the air temperature does not fall below 32 °F for six months, ie from sprouting to maturing. The cotton vegetation length is between 110 and 150 days. The minimum temperature for growth and development is 59 °F and the optimum between 77 and 86 °F. It has the greatest need for warmth at the time of flowering and fruiting.
It needs light to ripen the fiber and create cellulose. Cotton is a short-day plant. However, as it was grown at greater latitudes, the plant was adapting to different climatic conditions by expansion, so long-form forms were created.
It consumes a considerable amount of water and it is the basic factor that determines the number of toppings per plant and the yield of cotton. The most intense period of water uptake is during flowering and fruit formation. It tolerates drought relatively well due to its deep root system.
Cotton is a plant of deep, moderately fertile, structural and warm soils. It thrives best on sandy alluvial soils.
Agrotechnics for cotton farming
Although it tolerates cultivation in monoculture quite well, it should be grown in crop rotation as this will reduce the onset of disease and pests, and will also reduce weeds. Good pre-cultures include forage crops, alfalfas, and legumes (soybeans, beans, peas).
In the first half of August, it is plowed to a depth of about 8 inches, then the soil is thinned and leveled. Cotton is a spring crop, so the main tillage is done in the fall by plowing to 12 inches deep. It is then followed by saucing, harrowing, and rolling (flattening). The timing, manner, and number of tillage operations depend on the pre-culture and weather conditions.
The number of nutrients to be brought into the soil depends on the fertility of the soil and the intended nature. About 220 lb/h of nitrogen, 220 – 265 lb/h of phosphorus, and 175 – 220 lb/h of potassium should be applied to medium fertile soils. The fertilization schedule will depend on the soil type and the slope of the surface. In flat and even soils, 2/3 of phosphorous and potassium and about 20% nitrogen fertilizer should be given during deep autumn plowing.
For cotton sowing, varietal, certified seed from shoots closer to the stem and base of the plant are used. The seeds must first be separated from the fiber. After the separation of the long fiber by mechanical or chemical means, the short fiber is separated (delisting with sulfuric acid). The seed is then calibrated to size and weight and disinfected.
For sowing, the seed must contain at least 85% germination. Cotton is a spring crop and is sown when the soil temperature reaches 59 °F. The row spacing is 23 – 31 inches (maybe 40 inches, depending on the variety), and within the order of 4 – 4.7 inches (assembly 80 000 – 160 000 plants/ha). Sowing is carried out by pneumatic seed drills to a depth of 1-2 inches and requires 55 – 66 lb/h of seed.
Cotton crop care
Several measures of care are applied during the growing season according to the needs of the plants. These are breaking off the bark, application of herbicides, intermediate cultivation immediately after sprouting at a depth of 2-3 inches, and again after two weeks at a depth of 5-6 inches), feeding, soaking (from the beginning of flowering to the beginning of the formation of buds), eventual salting plants and the control of diseases and pests.
It is done by hand or stripper machines and starts when 60-70% of the tows are open. In order to reduce impurities and increase the efficiency of cotton harvesting, crop defoliation (at the stage of opening the first sprouts) is carried out. Within 10 – 15 days, most leaves fall off and harvesting can begin. After picking the sprouts, the long fiber is separated from the seed by the pruning machines and the short fiber by the linter machines. After that, each fiber is individually balanced.
The largest cotton plantations use machines for almost every job, from sowing to picking. In smaller plantations in poorer countries, growers use groups of oxen or buffaloes and pick cotton manually. Although harvesting with machines is faster, manual picking is often better because cotton pickers only harvest mature seed bushings.
Comparison of the machine and manual harvesting: A cotton picker can manually harvest 22 pounds of cotton seeds a day. The machine can pick up the same amount in just one hour.
Cotton production and fabric use
The cotton seeds overgrown with fibers are 1 inch in length; Separation of seeds and various purification processes yields a damp textile raw material. Before Eli Whitney invented the cotton machine, it took a person all day to get the seeds out of a pound of cotton. After purification, the cotton fibers are pressed into bales weighing 550 pounds each and taken to textile factories where they are processed into fabrics.
Of the world’s total textile fiber production, more than 70% is cotton. Resistant cotton fiber has been used for various purposes. The longest and highest quality fibers are used for lace and fine fabrics, while the shorter ones are used for making curtains and blankets or for industrial products such as thread, ribbons, and cotton wool. When cotton is subjected to a process after which it can no longer leak water, then it is a finished material made for umbrellas and raincoats.
In many parts of the world, cotton is grown on large plantations, while in Africa it is almost exclusively grown on smallholdings, covering an area of 0.5-10 hectares. In such smallholdings, farmers do not produce sufficient quantities of cotton to compete on the local or global market and thus cannot sell their product.
Keeping in mind that cotton is a crop grown only for sale, farmers had to find a solution; they partner with local cooperatives to help them not only sell all the cotton they produce but also get the seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides they need. By cooperative cotton farming, farmers achieve two goals – profit and sustainability.
What is Organic Cotton?
Organic cotton is cotton that is produced in accordance with internationally recognized organic production standards.
It is grown without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides and on land that is completely cleared of toxic residues of chemical fertilizers and pesticides previously potentially used on it.
The treatment of cleaning the land in this way lasts at least three years. Cotton seeds are used from the original plants, which means that the plants are not genetically modified, and any agents that are added during the cultivation of the plants are of organic origin and environmentally friendly.
During processing and packaging, fibers should not be treated with chemicals. Today, India, Syria, Turkey, China, Tanzania, the United States, Uganda, Peru, Egypt, West Africa, and Kyrgyzstan are the main producers of organic cotton.
Organic or conventional cotton
Thanks to the development of science, cotton cultivation has accelerated. Yet, due to the use of bioengineering, pesticides, and chemicals, much of the cotton apparel on the market today is not completely safe for humans.
Mass cultivation of cotton with the use of herbicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizer, using GMO seeds, greatly violates the natural laws of the planet.
For years, there has been controversy over which cotton is better: organic, which is produced by the principles of organic production, or conventional, produced by classical methods.
Manufacturers of conventional cotton cite as a major asset the mass and cheaper production of cotton, which in the cellulose content is no different then organically produced cotton.
With classical methods of identification, organic cotton fiber is indistinguishable from conventional cotton fiber.
But still, the benefits of organic cotton production are increasing year by year. The organic cotton production process is environmentally friendly and preserves an already endangered planet.
And the water consumption of organic cotton production is lower than that of conventional cotton. From a health point of view, organic cotton also has an advantage over conventional.
Many studies prove that organic cotton is significantly softer to the touch and has better water absorption.
One of the most common and oldest natural materials. The quality of the cotton depends on the length of its fibers – longer fibers produce shiny, strong, and quality cotton. The benefits of cotton are high hygroscopicity – the ability to absorb moisture and sweat does not irritate the skin and causes allergies.
It is easy to wash and maintain and can be ironed at high temperatures. Used alone (100% cotton) or mixed with other fibers (polyester, polyamide, polyacrylic, elastane, viscose, linen). Mixing with other materials achieves even better properties that make it easy to maintain, reduce creasing, shorten drying time, etc. It’s a great idea for all summer-style stories.
Organic cotton materials
It has all the properties of cotton, the difference is that organic cotton is produced with minimal or no use of chemicals, thus producing it with minimal impact on nature. It is grown in accordance with the principles of organic farming, which prohibits the use of chemicals at all stages of cotton production – from cultivation, harvesting, dyeing to finishing the fabric.
Organic cotton is the most skin-friendly material, soothing and practically the safest natural fiber. Conventional cotton fibers can sometimes be irritating to the skin, while irritants do not occur in organically produced cotton.
Organic cotton is primarily an ideal material for the protection and care of newborns, especially for making baby bedding, baby clothes, towels, gauze… Organic cotton in contact with the skin acts hypoallergenic, ie it does not cause irritation.
Cotton is one of the most polluted plants. The cultivation of conventional cotton in the textile industry causes enormous damage to the environment and human health.
To grow a certain amount of raw material, such as one shirt, needed cotton was sprayed with 17 tablespoons of fertilizer, to which was added one tablespoon of active chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides. Growth regulators are also being added.
In order for the cotton to ripen for harvest as soon as possible, it must be sprayed eight to ten more times. This not only pollutes the land, but also groundwater, animals and humans.
GMO Cotton Seeds as Food for Humans? The US gave the green light
Greenlight for genetically modified cotton that will be used for human consumption has been given in America this month, paving the way for a new protein-rich food source, Reuters brings. Edible cotton seeds, producers say, taste a bit like chickpeas and could help address global malnutrition.
A decision by the Food and Drug Administration for the Cotton Plant developed by scientists at Texas A&M University means that it is allowed as food for humans and all kinds of animals.
On the market in about five years
Texas biotechnologist at A&M AgriLife, Keerti Rathore said scientists have been discussing with companies and hope the plant will be available on the market within about five years. He says investigations are being made to authorize this type of food in other countries, starting with Mexico.
“Yes, we are fully aware of the resistance to GMOs in many countries, but I still hope that areas that are desperate for food will adopt this technology,” Rathore added.
Cotton is grown in more than 80 countries, with its fibers being used to make textiles and cotton seeds currently used for other purposes, to feed animals such as cattle and sheep. Usually, cotton seeds are not suitable for humans and many animal consumptions because they contain high levels of gossypol, a toxic substance.
“Silenced” the gene to reduce gossypol
Rathore’s team used so-called RNAi, or RNA interference, a technology that “silences” the gene, virtually eliminating gossypol from cotton seeds. At the same time gossypol remains at a natural level in the rest of the plant as it protects against insects and diseases.
“By adopting this technology, cotton is given a dual purpose. It does not require any additional effort by the farmer or the land to cultivate. So, it will make cotton farming more sustainable,” Rathore said.
Tell us in the comments what do you think about this idea – GMO Cotton Seeds as Food for Humans.