exactly how long is a cotton picking minute?
Where does cotton come from?
The cotton plant is a shrub that grows in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world. It benefits from long days of sunlight and little or no frosts in the winter months. Once planted, it takes just a couple of months for the shrubs to grow above the ground, then another month for the flowers to blossom. The flowers will change in colour. Firstly white, then to yellow, then to pink, then red. Finally, falling from the shrub to leave behind a green pod called a cotton boll.
The bolls ripen in the sun and develop fibres. These fibres expand and finally burst out in the form of cotton. They can be harvested either mechanically or by hand.
Eighty countries grow cotton around the world. There are four species, the most prominent being an upland variety.
These four species are;
1. Gossypium Hirsutum: Native to the USA and the Caribbean, this is short-staple upland cotton and represents nearly 90% of global production.
2. Gossypium Arboretum: Commonly called tree cotton is a species of cotton native to India and Pakistan.
3. Gossypium Herbaceum: Along with Arboretum, Herbaceum makes up approximately 2% of global production is native to Africa and the Arabian peninsula.
4. Gossypium Barbadense: Alone this variety is used for 8% of the world’s farming. Barbadense is an extra-long staple native to tropical South America.
The top 10 growers are:
- Burkina Faso
China is the largest importer of cotton in the world. However, this has not always been the case. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was the UK. Even today, Liverpool in the UK has the largest cotton market and became well established due to its proximity to the Lancashire mills. Indeed, the Liverpool market was the first market in the UK to trade in futures or derivatives contracts. It had its own Clearing House to enable customers to make payments on contracts.
Still today, The International Cotton Association is based here, ensuring that Liverpool is still central to the global market for trading.
Over the years, certain countries have become synonymous. Egypt is probably the most prominent ‘brand’ of cotton growers. Whilst Egypt does indeed grow some of the best, most notably Egyptian Giza 45, not all farms grow this variety.
The world’s best cottons are:
The tropical climate of the Caribbean has the perfect weather to grow Sea Island. This extra-long-staple variety has grown in Barbados for over 300 years. Sea Island Cotton is the most coveted, with fibres up to 60mm long. When spun, these super-soft and super-strong yarns create fabrics with the highest of thread counts. Making up just 0.0004% of cotton production, this is the most expensive and desirable. Indeed, even Queen Victoria insisted on having her handkerchiefs made from its luxurious fibres!
Known as White Gold, this is a hybrid of Sea island cotton from St Vincent and Sujata, indigenous to India. Suvin is grown in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. With a limited growth of just a few thousand bales annually, it is truly one of the great kinds of cotton. Suvin is a trademark of the Cotton Association of India.
Egyptian Giza 45
Giza 45 comes from the same variety as Sea Island cotton and is by far the most expensive Egyptian cotton. Harvested by hand, as long-staple cotton, it is grown on larger bushes and often on difficult terrains.
Named after the native Pima Indians, who farmed in Arizona in the early 20th century, this is the name for extra-long staple American cotton. Supima, a trademark of the Supima Association, is premium cotton grown in the far south-west and west America.
The short-staple is by far the most commonly farmed variety. Grown on vast farms and harvested mechanically from smaller bushes than the premium cotton grow on.