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July 20, 2018

Cotton Remains Top U.S. Agricultural Commodity

Cotton continues to be profitable for American farmers.

Currently known as the most widespread profitable non-food crop in the world, cotton has long been a staple crop in the U.S., but it was the creation of the cotton gin – patented by Eli Whitney in 1793 – that initially helped the country’s cotton industry soar.

In the 1830s, the slogan “Cotton Is King” originated, and by the late 1850s, cotton production in the U.S. accounted for 77 percent of the 800 million pounds of cotton consumed in Britain. U.S. cotton also accounted for 90 percent of the 192 million pounds used in France and 92 percent of the 102 million pounds manufactured in Russia.

Another notable moment in the U.S. cotton industry occurred in the early 1930s when John Rust invented the mechanical cotton picker. Capable of doing the work of between 50 and 100 hand pickers, this device reduced labor needs by 75 percent. It continued to be improved over the next several years and the first mechanical cotton pickers were commercially available just before 1950.

Today’s U.S. Cotton Industry

Fast forward to 2018. The cotton industry is continuing to thrive in the U.S., with cotton still a leading cash crop across the country. For example, according to the National Cotton Council of America, annual business revenue stimulated by cotton in the U.S. economy currently exceeds $120 billion, which makes cotton America’s No. 1 value-added crop.

Along with being a top U.S. cash crop, cotton is a major job creator. The National Council of Textile Organizations reports that there were 126,600 jobs in the nation’s cotton farming and related industries in 2017.

Cotton is produced on about 18,600 farms across the country, and U.S. textile mills have spun an average of 3.6 million bales annually. Typically planted in the spring and harvested about 150 to 200 days after planting, cotton grows best in tropical and subtropical locations in temperatures ranging from 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and cotton plants flower non-stop until inclement fall or winter weather sets in – that’s why cotton is largely considered a southern and southeastern crop. As a result, it makes sense that Texas is the leading cotton producer in the U.S., followed by Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

Cotton’s Many Commercial Uses

What makes cotton so profitable? Consider that all parts of the cotton plant are useful. The fiber of lint is used to make cotton cloth, linters (the short fuzz on the seed) provide cellulose for making products such as plastics and explosives, and cottonseed is used as a high-protein concentrate in baked goods and other food products.

In addition, cotton is part of our daily lives in many ways – from the sheets we sleep on to the clothes we wear, perfect for keeping us cool during the summer months – and this industrial crop is used to make items like wall coverings, medical supplies, and book bindings.

Find out how the nation’s premier land lender, AgAmerica Lending, can help you get started in the cotton industry with a cotton farm loan, and get inspired to take your next steps by reading stories of how U.S. farmers are connecting agriculture and fashion in fresh, unique ways.

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