Cotton Council International and Cotton Incorporated are adding a new twist to their promotional activities for cotton — getting behind a growing global trend toward sustainable systems.
CCI President Michael Adams says, “While increasing demand should remain our No. 1 priority, we also need to pay attention to the consumers' concern for the environment and their demand for sustainable fiber production. I believe that is our opportunity to get the message out about cotton as a natural, renewable, sustainable fiber
“The United States has a very good story to tell. U.S. cotton has been able to supply the world's increasing cotton fiber demand, currently growing 3 percent to 4 percent a year on the same or reduced land area, due to new technologies and conservation tillage.”
Adams says in the United States, “farming with modern techniques means there is less soil erosion, less pesticide application and less water use. Sustainable production annually has saved 306 million gallons of tractor fuel and about 1 million tons of U.S. soil and has reduced emissions equivalent to removing over 27,000 cars from our environment.
“In addition, cotton fields in the United States and around the world play a role in reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. The amount of cotton use in a pair of jeans takes 3.3 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and generates 2.2 pounds of oxygen.”
Adams, speaking at a media breakfast at the 2008 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Nashville, noted that cotton is by far the largest natural fiber in the global fiber, textile and apparel economies, representing the lion's share of all natural fibers consumed. The United Nations has declared 2009 as the International Year of Natural Fibers.
Adams went on the attack against non-renewable fibers, saying, “It is clear that the alternative to efficient and sustainable global production of cotton fiber is synthetic chemical fiber production. These synthetics, such as polyester, use petroleum as a base. Petroleum is not renewable and not sustainable in the long run.
“The United States and other countries put a great emphasis on replacing non-renewable fuels with renewable alternatives. We already have a product, ethanol, that can replace non-renewable alternatives. We also have a product that can replace non-renewable synthetic fibers with a natural renewable alternative that consumers love — cotton.
“If we truly want the cotton industry around the world to prosper, we need to increase demand for cotton. To do that, it is time for us to focus more on countering economic and trade policies that encourage excess synthetic fiber production and consumption to the detriment of cotton and other natural fibers.
“Such policies disrupt markets, bias production and consumption of fiber toward synthetics and ultimately cause the United States to suffer depressed prices and reduced demand.”
Adams noted that CCI and Cotton Incorporated will stick to their primary goal of finding ways to keep cotton attractive and interesting to all its customers, “particularly in major developing countries like India and China, where overall fiber demand will grow strongly at the mill and consumer levels.
“We have achieved good success so far. Much of the future growth in demand for cotton globally depends on what happens in these rapidly expanding consumer markets. We need to keep up the effort. But we need other countries to begin to pull their own weight for building demand for cotton among customers.”
And that is a message worth repeating, too — at least until somebody out there gets it, Adams said. Without the U.S. efforts to promote cotton, the rest of the world wouldn't be worrying about the effect of U.S. cotton subsidies on price. They'd likely be wondering what happened to their markets.
Adams, the director of export sales at the Greenwood, Miss.-based cotton cooperative Staplcotn, says U.S. cotton promotional efforts “positively influence the future and profitability of the U.S. cotton industry by stimulating mill and retail demand for cotton.
“Demand-building activities in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States “give us confidence that the consumer can be influenced. In fact, global demand for cotton has shot up over 36 million bales, or 39 percent, since 2000. That's a very impressive growth rate for any crop.
“Export demand for U.S. cotton fiber responded by increasing exports to 16.2 million bales in 2007, for a 140 percent increase since 2000. No one has done more in the U.S. cotton industry at stimulating demand and paying attention to cotton in the global economy.
“We may get criticized sometimes about our policies, but the U.S. cotton industry, through its promotional organizations of CCI and Cotton Incorporated, can take a lot of the credit for stimulating global demand for cotton that has helped everyone's bottom line.”
Last, but certainly not least, is proving to foreign customers that U.S. cotton is their most reliable supplier and trade partner.