8,867 bales of organic cotton were produced in the US in 2012

8,867 bales of organic cotton were produced in the US in 2012

Organic cotton production in the US is on the rise, but its future growth hinges on three key building blocks, a new survey suggests.

Seed improvement, the GOTS label, and popularity of 'Made in the USA,' are all identified as driving the long-term success and viability of the sector, according to the new Organic Cotton Production & Marketing Trends report prepared by the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

Based on a survey of 81 US organic cotton farmers, the group says the commercial availability of organic seed is currently a major hurdle for organic cotton producers - but research by a team at Texas A&M AgriLife Research is making "promising" headway on improving organic and non-GM cottonseed, including fibre quality and yields, as well as increased tolerance to drought, pests and weeds.

Increased use of the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) for the post-harvest processing of apparel made with organic fibre is also seen as having a positive impact. There are now more than 3,000 facilities worldwide certified to GOTS, including 44 in the US - which the OTA suggests is an indication that consumers are seeking to purchase organic textiles.

And marketing efforts to increase consumer demand for US-grown organic cotton are also key to growing domestic production, with an emphasis on the 'Made in the USA' aspect, as well as sustainability and job creation.

Top line figures from the survey showed that while the area planted to organic cotton actually decreased by 8%, from 16,050 acres in 2011 to 14,787 in 2012, the number of acres harvested increased to 9,842 in 2012.

This represents a 60% gain over 2011, when just 38% of the total planted acres were harvested. As a result, 8,867 bales were produced in 2012, a jump of 22% over the prior year.

The majority of the US organic cotton crop in 2012 was planted to upland cotton, with pima cotton representing less than 1,000 planted acres.

In addition, survey respondents reported an increase in acres planted in 2013, to 15,685 from 14,787 acres in 2012. Production was expected to hold steady, mainly due to weather-related issues.

Meanwhile, survey findings project a five-year increase in planted acres to 18,614, marking the largest acreage devoted to organic cotton in the US since 1995.