From the field, seed cotton moves to nearby gins for separation of lint and seed. The cotton first goes through dryers to reduce moisture content and then through cleaning equipment to remove foreign matter. These operations facilitate processing and improve fiber quality. The cotton is then air conveyed to gin stands where revolving circular saws pull the lint through closely spaced ribs that prevent the seed from passing through. The lint is removed from the saw teeth by air blasts or rotating brushes, and then compressed into bales weighing approximately 500 pounds. Cotton is then moved to a warehouse for storage until it is shipped to a textile mill for use. A typical gin will process about 12 bales per hour, while some of today’s more modern gins may process as many as 60 bales an hour.
Economics of Cotton
A National Cotton Council analysis affirms that today’s modern cotton production system provides significant benefits to rural America’s economy and environment.
Healthy rural economies are based on stable farm income, and cotton yields and prices are often among the healthiest of all field crops, vegetable or fruit.
Cotton continues to be the basic resource for thousands of useful products manufactured in the U.S. and undefinedoverseas. U.S. textile manufacturers use an annual average of 7.6 million bales of cotton. A bale is about 500 pounds of cotton. More than half of this quantity (57%) goes into apparel, 36% into home furnishings and 7% into industrial products. If all the cotton produced annually in the U.S. were used in making a single product, such as blue jeans or men’s dress shirts, it would make more than 3 billion pairs of jeans and more than 13 billion men’s dress shirts.
An often-overlooked component of the crop is the vast amount of cottonseed that is produced along with the fiber. Annual cottonseed production is about 6.5 billion tons, of which about two-thirds is fed whole to livestock. The remaining seed is crushed, producing a high-grade salad oil and a high protein meal for livestock, dairy and poultry feed. More than 154 million gallons of cottonseed oil are used for food products ranging from margarine and cooking oils to salad dressing.
The average U.S. crop moving from the field through cotton gins, warehouses, oilseed mills and textile mills to the consumer, accounts for more than $35 billion in products and services. This injection of spending is a vital element in the health of rural economies in the 17 major cotton-producing states from Virginia to California.
The gross dollar value of cotton and its extensive system of production, harvesting and ginning provides countless jobs for mechanics, distributors of farm machinery, consultants, crop processors and people in other support services. Other allied industries such as banking, transportation, warehousing and merchandising also benefit from a viable U.S. cotton production system.
Uses of Cotton
Cotton is used for virtually every type of clothing, from coats and jackets to foundation garments. Most of its apparel usage, however, is for men and boys’ clothing. Cotton supplies over 70% of this market, with jeans, shirts and underwear being major items.
In home furnishings, cotton’s uses range from bedspreads to window shades. It is by far the dominant fiber in towels and washcloths, supplying almost 100% of Home Furnishingsthat market. Cotton is popular in sheets and pillowcases, where it holds over 60% of the market.
Industrial products containing cotton are as diverse as wall coverings, bookbinding and zipper tapes. The biggest cotton users in this category, however, are medical supplies, industrial thread and tarpaulins.