Monday, October 25, 2010

Cotton Crops, Prices, and Recycling

Cotton is the most expensive it has ever been, at least since it was introduced as a crop in the United States. The high prices can be blamed on, at least, current messy weather in the United States and cold weather in China and previous wet weather and floods limiting crops in Pakistan and India. Demand for cotton is also higher than ever because of population growth and technological advances that make cotton textiles more versatile. U.S. prices for cotton are also lifted by a declining U.S. dollar, which makes it easier for more of the U.S. crop to be exported.

The world is adjusting by changing the trade routes for cotton. In particular, China is importing more right now. Meanwhile, India, which had cut off exports after its crop damage, has started exporting again.

Another adjustment is a renewed emphasis on cotton recycling. At this point, the effort consists mostly of collecting worn-out denim for use in manufacturing cotton insulation. Some businesses, though, say they have worked out the technology for extracting clothing-quality fibers from T-shirts and other common cotton items. If true, this could greatly expand the industrial footprint for recycled cotton, a welcome development in any case, but all the more so at a time when the world is having trouble growing all the cotton that people want.