The Cotton Industry
The cotton industry in Australia was developed in the 1960’s.
Australia is the third largest exporting country of cotton, with China purchasing 68% of our cotton. We produce 3% of the world’s cotton on approximately 1250 cotton farms. Almost half of the cotton farms are in Queensland and majority of the other cotton farms are in NSW. The soils utilised are some of the deepest and richest soils in Australia and because majority of the cotton farms are irrigated they are located along inland river systems.
The lint yield of irrigated cotton in Australia is higher than any other major cotton producing country in the world. This is because of the research and consequent technologies which cotton farmers have utilised, including genetically modified (GM) cotton, conservation farming practices, improved entomology management and improved irrigation practices. Cotton farmers and agronomists measure and assess insect populations, presence of diseases, soil moisture, pH and soil nutrient levels, as well as the stage of growth of the cotton plants. Everything on a cotton farm is carefully adjusted to minimise inputs, while trying to achieve the highest possible yields while maintaining the quality of the cotton produced.
There have been many significant achievements of cotton growers in Australia in the last decade, these include:-
- 89% less insecticide use due to GM crops and counting beneficial and harmful insects to decide on spraying thresholds.
- 40% less water used for irrigation due to use of moisture probes, electronically calculating water timings and quantities, furrow irrigation or centre pivots, rather than flood irrigation, lined irrigation channels, combined with conservation farming
- Cotton farms have a better-than-neutral carbon footprint. Net on-farm emissions of greenhouse gases on cotton farms are negative because the cotton plants store more carbon than they release during the growth of cotton crops.
The cotton industry in Australia is a highly innovative and well managed agricultural industry in Australia. The improvements which the cotton industry has made in efficiency of water, chemical and energy use have enabled the cotton industry to be highly competitive on the world market. The carefully managed crops are producing higher yields and Australian cotton is of premier quality.
The entire industry has become more sustainable and with more marketing and promotion hopefully consumers will realise the benefits of wearing and using this natural fibre and by- products.
The following youtube clip shows the stages of cotton processing from seeds on the farm, ginning to separate the lint from the seed the lint processing, manufacturing through to the end product – Australian made cotton socks.
The year 9/10 agriculture class has developed a promotional slogan for cotton products. It is:- “Get comfy with cotton.” The meaning behind this slogan is that we want to promote the benefits of wearing natural fibres in regards to physical comfort of a soft, breathable fabric and also we want consumers to be more comfortable with buying a product that uses a fraction of the chemicals and almost half the water that it did ten years ago. The cotton industry should be acknowledged and promoted for their massive improvements on reducing their carbon footprint and the significant reductions of other environmental impacts. It would be fantastic if the wider community could become aware of how sustainable cotton farming has become. We want people to become more comfortable with choosing cotton products.
“Get comfy with cotton”
Uses of Cotton
The long cotton fibres are made into thread and are used for production of jeans, shirts, sheets and towels and the short fibres are used for padding in products. The seed is processed into cottonseed oil. This is used as cooking oil, in plastics, cosmetics, margarine and insecticides. Cottonseed meal for livestock nutrition is another product of the process. Approximately 55 % of the ginned cotton is cottonseed, with the cotton lint making up 35 %.The balance is waste, which is used as high protein cattle or sheep feed. Once the cotton lint has been through the ginning process it is baled by compaction and transported to spinning mills to produce cotton, in Australia and overseas.
In addition to the textile industry, cotton is used in fishing nets, coffee filters, tents, explosives manufacture (see nitrocellulose), cotton paper, and in bookbinding. The first Chinese paper was made of cotton fibre.
Cotton linters are fine, silky fibres which adhere to the seeds of the cotton plant after ginning. These curly fibres typically are less than 3.2 mm long. Linters are referred to as “cotton wool”. This has medical, cosmetic and many other practical uses
The cotton industry in Australia has been an important contributor to export income and regional employment. The industry is very efficient and it is at the forefront in terms of research and farming techniques.
Cotton Products PowerPoint
Cotton Manufacturing, marketing and exporting
· A cotton gin is the first stage of processing
· Cotton gins are factories that separate cottonseed and trash from the lint (raw cotton fibre)
· Australia’s cotton gins are located in regional areas where the cotton is grown to reduce transport costs
· Ginning is done in a series of stages using large, fast moving mechanical saws that “strip” the cotton lint from the seeds and blowers to remove as much trash as possible
· The white fluffy lint is then pressed into cotton bales using a bale press, and covered with bale covers made from a cotton knit fabric to minimise contamination
· A cotton gin can produce 60-100 cotton bales an hour
· An Australian cotton bale weighs 227kg (500 pounds)
· Cottonseed is approximately 50% of ginned cotton’s weight
· Cotton fibre is 40% of ginned cotton’s weight
· Trash is the remaining 10% of ginned cotton’s weight and is made up of mostly leaves and sticks
· The trash is sometimes used in products that clean up oil spills and also in ethanol manufacturing
· Following the ginning process, samples of cotton are collected from each bale for classing
· Cotton classing sorts the fibre into different quality based grades. The better the fibre quality, the higher the grade and the more the grower is paid for the cotton
· There are many factors in cotton classing that determine the grade including colour, staple length, fibre strength, micronaire, neps (or knottiness), stickiness and trash content
· Australia has an open and highly competitive marketing system which growers forward sell their crops directly to independent marketing companies
· The Australian Cotton Shippers Association (ACSA) represents these companies
· These companies then “on sell” the cotton into overseas markets, and pay the grower
· Once the cotton bales are ginned, pressed and containerised, they are loaded on to trucks and trains and sent to port for shipping, mostly to overseas markets
· The main ports for Australian cotton are in Brisbane and Sydney, with some cotton shipped from Melbourne
· The cotton bales are warehoused, and once they’re sold and ready to be shipped are loaded into large shipping containers
· The main customers for Australian cotton are spinning mills located in south east Asia – China is Australia’s largest buyer of cotton
Spinning and Weaving
· When the cotton bales arrive at the spinning mills, they are opened and checked for contamination
· Bales of cotton are put into a blower to separate all the fibres, and are then combed, carded and spun into yarn
· This yarn is then woven or knitted into fabric
· Dyeing can occur at either yarn or fabric stage
· This fabric can then be sewn into all sorts of cotton products including clothing and industrial products like tarpaulins and rope
· Most of the Australian cotton crop is spun and woven overseas
· Cotton Australia’s ‘Cotton to Market’ program was established to create confidence to use cotton in the textile supply chain
Cotton Australia promotes Australian cotton through three main programs:
· Cotton LEADS™ is a program that is committed to responsible cotton production and is based on promoting sustainability, the use of best practices and traceability in the supply chain.
· The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) brings together farmers, ginners, traders, spinners, retailers, brands and grassroots organisations in a unique global community committed to developing Better Cotton as a sustainable product.
· Australian Cotton Story: direct engagement helps share our story with Australian and international brands, retailers, manufacturers and designers