Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cotton, yes cotton

“I am a huge fan of big cotton underpants; they're comfortable. I wear them every day.” — Gisele Bundchen

WE SAW saw so many rice fields in Arkansas (Kansas City to Memphis), that I looked up rice-growing as we drove along and learned that rice is the #1 field crop in Arkansas, soybeans comes in at #2 and cotton is #3. We live in Iowa where soybeans are grown by the ton, so I have at least a little knowledge about beans, but I was curious about cotton. 

Where else is it grown? One would guess MississippiAlabama and Georgia; I also guessed Texas which turned out to be a good guess, but where else? Which state grows the most? Which countries? 

I got the answers to those questions and more, and learned things about cotton I wouldn't have otherwise known.

First from Statista.com, here is a list of the biggest cotton-producing states in 2015.

Below is a list of the countries producing the most cotton in 2015.

The predominant type of cotton grown in the United States is American Upland (Gossypium hirsutum). Upland cotton, which usually has a staple length of 1 to 1-1/4 inches, accounts for about 97 percent of the annual US cotton crop.

The remaining 3 percent, extra-long staple (ELS) cotton, is Gossypium barbadense. ELS denotes a cotton fiber of extraordinary length, a minimum of 1-3/8" or longer. This minimum is significantly longer than Upland cotton. 

As well as fiber length, ELS cotton is also recognized for its superior strength, uniformity and silky feel. Even with all the benefits of ELS fiber characteristics, it's grown only in limited quantities because ELS cotton varieties are quite specific in their requirements. They can only be grown in areas that suit the plant’s need for hot days and cool nights, and a significantly greater amount of crop management is required for ELS than for Upland cotton. 

The variety of ELS cotton grown the most here is American Pima

Although Pima cotton has been grown in the Southwestern US since the early 1900’s, the First World War boosted its research and development. The Defense Department had been looking for places to grow ELS cotton because its not only long-fibered, but exceptionally strong. 

At that time ELS was being used to make tire cords and high quality fabrics to cover the fuselage and wings of that still-new technological wonder, the airplane. In fact Goodyear, AZ was founded by the tire company of the same name to be close to the source of cotton production.

The end of the war and major changes in technology put a temporary halt to much of the US research into ELS cotton as cheaper, easier-to-produce materials found greater favor in aircraft and tires, but about 1950 the USDA and other cotton breeders began growing ELS cotton again for its superior luster and silkiness.

American ELS cotton was christened Pima in honor of Pima Indians who helped the government’s Pima breeding program since 1910 on the USDA experimental farm at Sacaton, Arizona.

I always wondered why linens and clothing make a point of specifically saying Pima cotton on the label. Now I know. Thanks Pima Native Americans.


  1. Fascinating! I always have thought of Pima cotton as being superior. Perhaps it is.

  2. Kelly, you did a good job on the research. One more thing to add; the reason we don't grow as much Pima cotton as we once did is because in the late 1950's we showed other countries how to grow it such as the Sudan. It effectively put the growers here out of business. I know this because my husband, who was not my husband at the time, was one of those contracted by our government to show the Sudanese how to grow the much-prized cotton. Pima cotton has always gone for premium prices.