Despite grappling with tight seed supplies, persistent weeds and a shortage of seasonal labor, U.S. organic cotton growers are estimated to have planted the most acreage to organic cotton in 2014 since 1995, according to the 2013 and Preliminary 2014 U.S. Organic Cotton Production & Marketing Trends report just published by the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

Respondents to OTA's survey reported a 14 percent increase in organic cotton acres planted in 2014 – from 15,973 in 2013 to 18,234, representing the largest planted organic cotton acreage in this country in almost 20 years.

Organic cotton acreage has been on a slow but steady growth trend in the U.S. for the past several years. In 2013, acres planted to organic cotton rose 6 percent to 14,787, according to the OTA report. While acres harvested in 2013 decreased to 9,262 from 9,842 the previous year, production increased by almost 20 percent to 10,335 bales.

"It's not easy to grow organic cotton," said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of OTA. "These latest numbers show the genuine commitment of organic growers to produce cotton in the most environmentally friendly way, and to respond to an increasing desire by consumers for organic fiber. Today's consumers want to incorporate organic not just in the food we eat, but in the clothes we wear, the sheets on our bed, and the mattresses on which we sleep."

The OTA report is based on a survey conducted in December of organic cotton growers in Arizona, California, New Mexico, North Carolina and Texas. West Texas is the leading organic cotton region in the country.

Regardless of farm size, region or varieties grown, the primary need voiced by organic cotton producers was an effective method of weed control, made even more urgent by the lack of availability of seasonal labor in cotton-growing regions. Commercial supplies of organic seed continue to be another major hurdle, with genetically modified seeds now dominating the marketplace.

U.S. organic cotton growers enjoy a healthy market for their products, and command a premium over non-organic cotton. Survey respondents reported receiving $1.38 per pound for organic upland cotton, with prices reaching as high as $2.20 for organic pima cotton. The majority of the U.S. organic cotton crop in 2013 was planted to upland cotton, with pima representing fewer than 1,000 planted acres.

Sales of organic cotton have grown significantly in recent years as consumers increasingly seek out sustainable, chemical-free fiber. Organic fiber is now the largest non-food organic category in the market, with organic fiber sales in the U.S. closing in on $1 billion in 2013.

"Growing organic cotton in the U.S. is a highly specialized and technical discipline," states the OTA report. "That said, those in the small group of U.S. organic cotton growers are experienced, well-organized and committed to the enterprise."

OTA is committed to promoting the growth of the organic cotton industry and the organic fiber sector. A key factor in that growth is consumer trust in the organic label. To that end, OTA is working with government officials to develop an enforcement policy on the use of organic claims on textiles, and is a member of the International Working Group of the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), the international textile processing standard for organic fibers established in the early 2000s to give consumers assurance of the validity of the organic claim.

The OTA survey was made possible through a grant from Cotton Incorporated, and the full report is available, at no cost, at www.OTA.com.