11 Reflections on Cotton During Harvest 2021
I love Arizona’s cotton harvest time. It varies depending on where you live in Arizona. Yuma County harvests in early summer to get ready for leafy green planting. But, in the Arizona valley, most farmers are not harvesting until November.
When someone asks me about cotton, I have all sorts of fun facts to share. Here are some of my favorites.
- According to USDA-NASS, this year’s Arizona cotton acreage was 115,000, down from the previous year's 125,000. It wasn’t too long ago (2012) when we planted as many as 200,000 acres of cotton in Arizona.
- Cotton is a sustainable and renewable fiber. The seed is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall once the green bolls have opened to produce the fluffy, white fiber.
- Arizona cotton, along with California, is some of the whitest, highest-quality cotton around. One main reason is that Arizona and California irrigate the cotton. With so little rainfall in the southwest, the cotton fiber is not at risk for compromised quality due to wind and rain. Rain can degrade the quality of the fiber.
- Over the years, seed varieties of cotton continued to improve. Next year, Bt cotton (Biotech) will complete 26 years of cultivation in the United States. Despite the challenges of misinformation in the public forum, the technology has enjoyed the confidence of farmers, researchers and policymakers. Bt cotton has not only benefited farmers, but also the textile industry, oil industry and boosted economies throughout the globe. This genetically modified seed has saved countless billions in pesticide use and improved cotton yields as pests were eradicated.
- We’ve been growing cotton in Arizona since the Hohokam, a prehistoric North American Indian people who lived approximately A.D. 1 to 1,450 in the semiarid region of present-day central and southern Arizona, largely along the Gila and Salt rivers.
- Even though anthropologists suggest cotton is more than 5,000 years old, the people who grew and used it never encountered each other. Some of them even lived on different sides of an ocean, but astonishingly, they still managed to develop similar tools to clean, prepare, spin, and weave this magical, renewable fiber, even before the mechanical cotton picker.
- Despite its well-earned reputation of casual comfort, the actual word "cotton" is an English version of the Arabic "qutun" or "kutun," a generic term meaning fancy fabric. One of cotton's original popular names was "vegetable wool."
- One of the finest extra-long staple (ELS) cotton was developed and grown right here in Arizona. The USDA in Sacaton, Arizona, had an ELS breeding program that helped develop the ELS cotton.
- Cotton seeds are tough enough to survive travel across oceans on the wind. This could explain how botanists are not sure where the first cotton plants came from, and probably why similar varieties grow sometimes thousands of miles apart. But it does explain why the Hohokam Indian tribe was growing it thousands of years ago here in the southwest.
- People forget that cotton is also a food product. The cottonseed oil produced from the harvested seed crop is considered a healthy cooking oil and chefs love it for its high flashpoint (can heat the oil higher than olive oil without burning it) and because it’s tasteless.
- Cotton is 100% biodegradable and is compostable. Under aerobic or anaerobic conditions cotton wipes made of cotton will biodegrade completely in 4 weeks.
We also have a lot to celebrate when it comes to cotton’s environmental footprint. According to Cotton Incorporated, the following ecological benefits should be celebrated.
- Soil conservation has increased by reducing soil loss by 68%.
- Water used to grow cotton accounts for only about 3% of the world’s agricultural water use.
- In the U.S. 64% of the cotton is grown by naturally falling rainfall and irrigation water use has declined by 75%.
- Cotton has a neutral greenhouse gas footprint.
- In fact, the amount of CO2 removed by cotton plants worldwide from the air is equivalent to taking 7 million cars off the road.
- In the U.S., there has been a 50% reduction in the number of pesticide applications over the last 25 years.
- Pesticides are used by farmers to stabilize yields and produce an abundant and affordable supply of food and fiber.