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New Study: Organic Cotton Production Rises; Obstacles to Future Growth Remain

A new report issued by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) shows that organic cotton in the U.S. made great strides in 2012, but significant hurdles remain.

The study, entitled “2012 and Preliminary 2013 U.S. Organic Cotton Production and Marketing Trends,” surveyed eighty-one U.S. organic cotton farmers. In 2012, acres planted with organic cotton decreased by 8 percent to 14,787 acres, down from 16,050 acres from the year before. However, the acreage harvested actually increased to 9,842 in 2012, a 60 percent jump over 2011. In 2012, a total of 8,867 bales were produced, a 22 percent hike from 2011.

Also, more acres were planted in 2013 for organic cotton, rising from 14,787 in 2012 to 15,685. Due to inclement weather, overall production remained approximately the same. The study anticipates a five-year increase in acres of organic cotton planted to reach 18,614, the highest level since 1995.

The central difficulty facing organic cotton farmers is the “commercial availability of organic seed.” The good news is that cutting-edge research is discovering new ways to improve both organic and non-GM cottonseed, as well as technologies that increase fiber quality and yields, and increases the tolerance of cotton seeds to pests, weeds and drought, its three primary threats.

The report also highlighted the importance of the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), a set of global standards that apply to post-harvest processing of all apparel made with organic fiber. More than 3,000 facilities in the world are certified under GOTS guidelines. In the U.S., GOTS certified plants have increased to forty-four. The OTA study emphasized the need for more facilities to voluntarily adopt GOTS standards.

Finally, the study indicated that the continued growth of organic cotton production hinges on effective marketing. Raising consumer awareness about the more attractive features of organic cotton should push apparel and sales and, as a consequence, justify more cotton production. The report cited the benefits already captured as a result of the “Made in USA” marketing campaign.

The OTA represents more than 6,500 organic businesses of various stripes in forty-nine states and is a membership-based association. Its stated mission is to “promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy.”