U.S. organic cotton production in 2003 dropped to less than half that recorded for 2001, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) announced recently.

According to an OTA survey funded by a grant from Cotton Incorporated and additional information supplied by the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, U.S. growers harvested at least 4,628 bales of organic cotton in 2003. Excluded from the 2003 figure, however, were data for 80 acres for which the number of bales harvested went unrecorded. A 2002 OTA study of organic production showed a total of 9,897 bales harvested in 2001.

Despite the drop in production, overall U.S. sales of organic fiber finished products, predominantly made from organic cotton, grew 23 percent in 2003, to reach $85 million, according to OTA's 2004 Manufacturer Survey released earlier in the year.

Meanwhile, U.S. acreage planted to organic cotton in 2003 was less than half that planted the previous year, according to survey findings.

In preliminary results released, the survey reported on 12 farmers who grew and harvested organic cotton in the United States during 2003. Of the 12, nine are members of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, and three farm independently. Upland cotton was the predominant crop, with some pima cotton grown as well.

The amount of cotton acreage planted to organic cotton decreased by 55 percent in 2003, from 9,044 acres planted in 2002 to 4,060 acres planted in 2003. Survey results showed plantings of 3,690 acres of upland cotton and 370 acres of pima cotton. The majority of organic cotton in 2003 was grown in Texas. Organic cotton was also grown in Missouri and New Mexico.

The survey also showed area planted for 2004 totaled 4,186 acres of upland organic cotton and 488 acres of pima organic cotton, for a total of 4,674 acres. Harvesting figures for 2004 are not yet available.

One intent of the latest cotton production survey was to examine what impact the National Organic Program (NOP) has had on growers of organic cotton. Challenges reported by growers included sourcing agricultural inputs that comply with the rules, finding consistency in interpretation of the rule by certifiers, tackling increased paperwork, and keeping informed of NOP rule changes. A reason cited for the decrease in U.S. organic cotton acreage was not national organic standards, however, but competition from foreign growers. As one grower pointed out, some manufacturing companies, to increase their margins, have chosen to purchase internationally produced cotton at a lower price than they would pay U.S. growers. Inconsistent and low prices, as well as a weak market, have discouraged U.S. growers from raising organic cotton.

Since national organic standards were implemented, none of the farmers have increased their acreage devoted to organic production, although several reported plans to do so in the next five years, and five said they intend to keep their acreage at the same level.

Growers reported "selling excess product at reasonable prices" as their biggest challenge in getting their organic cotton to market, followed by finding a market that would pay for the value-added costs of organic products. Benefits of the NOP rule perceived by farmers include standardizing organic regulations and increasing consumer awareness and demand for organic products.

Source: Association Release