What is cotton?

Cotton is a plant that produces fibers, which are used to make clothes and other products, like towels, carpets, or sheets. Clothes made out of cotton are especially light and comfortable.

What Cotton Is Used For

Every part of the cotton plant can be used. The long cotton fibers are used to make cloth, the short fibers can be used in the paper industry. You can make oil or margarine out of the seeds of the cotton plant. The leaves and stalks of the cotton plant are plowed into the ground to make the soil better. Other parts of the plant are fed to animals.


Where Cotton Is Grown

Cotton is a subtropical plant that grows in many warm areas of the world. It started as a plant of the tropics but today it is grown in other warm areas that have at least 200 frost-free days. The most important cotton-growing countries are the USA, China, India, Pakistan, and Australia.

Cotton needs a hot, sunny climate to grow. The plant needs well-drained soil and a lot of rainfall during the growing season. During the harvest season, it should be sunny and dry. Some areas grow cotton on irrigated land.

Cotton needs soil that has a lot of nitrogen in it. Farmers use chemical fertilizers to improve the soil.

Growing And Processing Cotton

Cotton plants can reach a height of up to 2 meters.

After plowing the soil in spring cotton seeds are planted in rows by hand or machine. Three weeks after the plants come out flower buds begin to form. They produce white flowers that turn red and fall off. The flowers have a green fruit, called boll, which has seeds in it. The white fiber of different lengths grows around the seeds. Cotton can be harvested when the boll bursts open and shows the fibers inside. The longest fibers are up to 6 cm long and are used for the best cloth. Most fibers, however, are much smaller.

Cotton is harvested about 150 to 200 days after farmers plant it. In industrial countries picking machines to drive through the fields, harvest the cotton, and transport it onto a trailer.

Gins separate the cotton fiber from the seeds. Cotton is then combed, dried, cleaned, and pressed into bales. Cotton buyers or brokers buy the raw cotton and then sell it to textile mills. There, spinning machines spin cotton into yarn. The yarn is woven into cloth, which is bleached and sometimes dyed.

History Of Cotton

Humans realized very early that the soft, fluffy cotton fibers can be used to make comfortable clothes. Cotton was first grown in Pakistan and the Nile Valley about 3,000 years ago. Native Americans started growing cotton at the same time in North America. Europe was introduced to cotton through Arab merchants at about 800 A.D. By 1500 cotton was known all over the world.

When Europeans founded colonies in America they relied on cotton to make a living. In the early days, growing and harvesting cotton was a hard job that was done manually by slaves.

In 1793 an American, Eli Whitney, invented the cotton gin, the machine that separated seeds from fiber. This new invention allowed farms to produce even more cotton.

In the second part of the 20th-century people started to produce synthetic fibers, like nylon and acrylic. The importance of cotton fiber began to drop. By the middle of the 1970s cotton made up only one-third of all fibers worldwide. Many cotton farmers had to close their farms. Governments, especially in America, had to help cotton farmers during this economically difficult period.

By 1990 the demand for cotton clothes became bigger, simply because people saw that cotton was a natural fiber and very comfortable to wear. By the turn of the millennium, cotton regained its importance.

Towards the end of the 20th-century farmers started experimenting with organic cotton, grown without chemicals or pesticides. Such cotton, however, has turned out to be more expensive than normal cotton.

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