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U.S. cotton mill use shrinks to lowest in nearly 140 years

Thursday, January 18, 2024

U.S. cotton mill use—the volume of raw cotton processed into textiles—is estimated at 1.9 million bales for the 2023/24 marketing year (August–July). If realized, cotton used by U.S. textile mills would fall to its lowest level in more than 100 years—since the 1884/85 marketing year, when approximately 1.7 million bales were used. U.S. cotton mill use has been mostly on a downward trend since the early 1940s when cotton use peaked during World War II. Soon after the end of the war, synthetic fibers were developed and began substituting for cotton. Use of synthetics in the production of textiles continued to expand and further reduced cotton mill use through the early 1980s when the downward trend was dramatically reversed. Promotion efforts and programs such as the Caribbean Basin Initiative and later the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) fostered U.S. cotton yarn and fabric production. U.S. cotton mill use rose, peaking again in the mid-1990s, before the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Textiles and Clothing began phasing out quotas on developed countries’ textile and apparel product imports. By the early 2000s, cotton mill use in several countries—particularly China—expanded to take advantage of the phased-out quotas on cotton product exports to the United States. Although U.S. raw cotton exports benefited from increased foreign mill demand, U.S. cotton mill use weakened, and the downward trend led to the near historically low 2023/24 U.S. cotton mill use projection. This information is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s December 2023 Cotton and Wool Outlook.

U.S. cotton exports accounted for one third of the global market’s value in 2021

Thursday, October 5, 2023

The United States is the global leader in cotton exports by value, holding a 33-percent share ($5.7 billion) of the global export market in 2021. U.S. cotton exports expanded to $8.9 billion in 2022 and, while U.S. cotton exports in 2023 are expected to be lower than 2022 levels, USDA’s 10-year projections for U.S. exports indicate growth in the long term. In 2021, the most recent year for which complete global data are available, U.S. exports of cotton totaled nearly 3 million metric tons, 47 percent more volume than the next highest exporter, Brazil. Other major competitors in the global cotton market include Australia, India, and the European Union, with 2021 market shares (in terms of value) ranging from 5 to 15 percent each, as well as several exporters from Africa, including Benin, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire. In addition to maintaining the largest share of the aggregate global market, the United States is a key supplier to several top importer markets. For example, in 2021, U.S. cotton accounted, by value, for 39 percent of cotton imports to China, the top cotton importer in the world. Other top destinations for U.S. cotton exports include Vietnam, Turkey, Pakistan, and Mexico. These countries combined with China, accounted for more than 70 percent of U.S. cotton exports in 2021. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report, U.S. Export Competitiveness in Select Crop Markets, March 2023.

U.S. retail cotton use shrinks in 2022

Thursday, April 13, 2023

U.S. retail cotton use—an estimate of cotton product usage by consumers—decreased 8 percent in 2022 to 9.1 billion pounds. This decline was realized after a nearly 30-percent surge in 2021 when U.S. retail cotton use rebounded from the effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020. In the United States, most retail clothing purchases are of imported products. Accordingly, clothing imports are used as an economic indicator for the health of the global textile and apparel industry. In 2021, U.S. cotton product imports—mostly clothing—jumped dramatically, as did U.S. mill use and cotton product exports—mostly yarn and fabric. By 2022, however, U.S. retail demand for cotton products slipped to near its pre-pandemic trend but was still the second highest in over a decade. Although each component of U.S. retail cotton use—cotton mill use, product exports, and product imports—decreased in 2022, the import decline was significantly larger and led the reduction in retail cotton use. As a result, the U.S. per capita estimate of retail cotton use slipped from nearly 30 pounds in 2021 to 27.5 pounds in 2022. With U.S. and world economic expansion projected to slow in 2023, limited growth is also expected for U.S. retail cotton use. This information is drawn from the Economic Research Service’s March 2023 Cotton and Wool Outlook.

More than 75 percent of soybean, cotton, and corn acres planted by U.S. farmers are genetically engineered

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Genetically engineered (GE) seeds were commercially introduced in the U.S. for major field crops in 1996, with adoption rates increasing rapidly in the years that followed. By 2008, more than 50 percent of corn, cotton, and soybean acres were planted with genetically engineered seeds. The total planted acreage with GE seeds has only increased since then, and now more than 90 percent of U.S. corn, upland cotton, and soybeans are produced using GE varieties. GE crops are broadly classified as herbicide-tolerant (HT) only, insect-resistant (Bt) only, or stacked varieties that combine both HT and Bt traits in a single seed. In the chart, both HT and Bt lines include stacked varieties which are a combination of both type of traits. Although other GE traits have been developed, such as virus and fungus resistance, drought resistance, and enhanced protein, oil, or vitamin content, HT and Bt traits are the most commonly used in U.S. crop production. While HT seeds are also widely used in alfalfa, canola, and sugar beet production, most GE acres are planted to three major field crops: corn, cotton, and soybeans. This chart appears in the ERS Topic Page Recent Trends in GE Adoption, published in 2022.

Textile manufacturing shifts out of China as global cotton exports directed to Asian competitors

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

China’s position as the top global cotton importer is weakening as cotton shipments flow into flourishing textile industries in competing countries. Soon after China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, the nation’s textile manufacturers became the world’s leading importers of cotton. Following years of rising production costs, volatility from government intervention in the market, and government caps on the volume of imports, China’s cotton imports dropped from their peak of 24.5 million bales in 2011 to 4.4 million bales in 2015, before rebounding to 9.5 million bales in 2021. Meanwhile, competing countries, including Vietnam, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Turkey, expanded their textile industries and boosted cotton imports over the same period. These countries’ combined imports now exceed China’s volume of cotton imports. This increasing geographic diversification of global cotton demand has helped U.S. cotton exports to remain relatively robust despite volatility in China’s imports over the past decade. Growth in textile production outside of China supports the USDA projection that U.S. cotton exports will rise by about 1.4 million bales between 2021–30. USDA also projects that combined cotton imports by Vietnam, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Turkey will rise by 8.1 million bales from 2021 to 2030 while China’s imports will rise by a more modest 3.5 million bales. In 2030, China is forecast to account for 24 percent of total global cotton imports, while the other five destinations are projected to account for 47 percent of world cotton imports. This chart is drawn from the USDA Economic Research Service report, China Cotton: Textiles, Imports, and Xinjiang, published August 2022.

U.S. retail cotton use rebounded in 2021

Thursday, June 9, 2022

U.S. retail cotton use—an estimate of consumer usage of products made from cotton—jumped nearly 30 percent in 2021 to nearly 10 billion pounds, the highest in 13 years. The recovery coincided with the rebound of the U.S. economy following the onset of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020, when U.S. retail cotton use tumbled to its lowest point in more than 25 years. In the United States, most cotton clothing purchased in retail channels is imported. Import levels are used as an economic indicator for the global textile and apparel industry. U.S. cotton product imports—mostly clothing—fell by more than 10 percent in 2020, while cotton mill use and product exports—mostly yarn and fabric—also slowed with the economic downturn. By 2021, U.S. cotton product imports rose to their highest level since 2007. Although 2021 U.S. cotton mill use and product exports each increased by a similar percentage as product imports, the import volume was substantially larger. In addition, the U.S. per capita estimate of retail cotton usage increased to nearly 30 pounds in 2021, the highest amount since 2010. Despite the recent rebound, global economic expansion is projected to moderate in 2022 and the growth rate in retail cotton usage is expected to slow. This information is drawn from the Economic Research Service’s March 2022 Cotton and Wool Outlook.

Global cotton mill use rebounds from COVID-19 disruptions

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Cotton mill use generally follows world economic activity. When the global economy contracts (expands), consumers often decrease (increase) purchases of items such as clothing. As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic weakened the world economy in 2020, numerous industrial disruptions occurred, including textile and apparel operations. Correspondingly, world cotton mill use in marketing year 2019 (August 2019-July 2020) declined to a 16-year low, with the 14.6 percent year-over-year decrease unmatched during the previous 100 years. However, as the global economy begins to recover from the pandemic, world cotton mill use has increased. Based on USDA’s June 2021 forecast, marketing year 2020 global cotton mill use is estimated to regain most of the past season’s lost volume, and the projected 14.8 percent year-over-year expansion is the second highest during the past century. Global cotton mill use has increased more than 10 percent year-over-year in only 7 other years since 1920, with most of those gains following significant recessionary declines. Although the global economy and cotton mill use continues to recover from the pandemic’s impact, the 2020 rebound in cotton mill use has arguably been just as historic as the unprecedented 2019 decline. This information and the effects on global cotton supply and demand are discussed in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s June 2021 Cotton and Wool Outlook.

U.S. cotton product imports recovering from COVID-19 impact

Monday, September 28, 2020

U.S. cotton product imports—which are mostly clothing products—generally follow a seasonal pattern, with increased imports seen in the months prior to peak consumer buying periods like summer, back-to-school, and Christmas. As calendar year 2020 began, U.S. cotton product imports followed similar monthly levels as during the previous 3 years. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, substantial shifts in the textile and apparel industry produced ripple effects throughout the supply chain from manufacturing to retail sales, which affected product imports significantly during the spring and summer of 2020. U.S. cotton product imports began deviating from their seasonal pattern in March 2020, dropping further in April and May. Since May, however, cotton product import data have been relatively positive, as the recovery of the textile and apparel industry progresses. May 2020 cotton product imports were only about 40 percent of the 2017-19 average for that month. However, by July—the latest available data—imports had climbed to 85 percent of its 2017-19 average. Although the economic recovery is expected to vary by industry, recent cotton product imports—a proxy for the textile and apparel industry—show substantial improvement supportive of the ongoing recovery. This information and the related impacts on global cotton demand are discussed in the Economic Research Service’s Cotton and Wool Outlook report for September 2020.

Global cotton mill use sustains unprecedented decline as COVID-19 impact unfolds

Friday, June 19, 2020

Cotton mill use generally tracks global economic activity. When the global economy weakens—as during the COVID-19 pandemic—consumers often defer purchases of items such as clothing, and the associated industries adjust operations accordingly. For the textile and apparel industry, these adjustments have included temporary closures or substantial reductions in manufacturing operations, as postponement or cancellation of orders have had ripple effects throughout the entire supply chain, from raw fiber procurement to retail sales. The developing global economic slowdown has significantly reduced world cotton demand for marketing year (MY) 2019 (August 2019-July 2020). Although June’s global mill use forecast is at a 16-year low, the projected year-over-year decrease is of historic proportion—down nearly 15 percent—and unmatched during the past century. World cotton mill use has declined more than 5 percent year-over-year in only 10 other years since MY 1920, with most of those reductions associated with global recessions, including the Great Depression. More recently, uncertainty surrounding the global financial crisis significantly limited world cotton demand in MY 2008, while a dramatic run-up in MY 2010 cotton prices to levels not experienced since the U.S. Civil War hampered mill use in MY 2011. While the overall severity of the COVID-19 pandemic remains unknown, the immediate shock to global cotton mill use has been historically significant. This information and the impacts on global cotton supply and demand are discussed in the Economic Research Service’s Cotton and Wool Outlook report for June 2020.

U.S. acres planted with industrial hemp expanded rapidly in 2019

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

After a hiatus of almost 45 years, the Agricultural Act of 2014, Public Law 113-79 (the 2014 Farm Bill) reintroduced industrial hemp production in the United States through State pilot programs. Industrial hemp is a strain of Cannabis sativa that is low in active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It is grown specifically for a variety of industrial products. Production of industrial hemp beyond the pilot programs was legalized in the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, Public Law 115-334 (the 2018 Farm Bill). By mid-2019, 47 States had passed legislation to allow some form of hemp production and planted acreage reported to the USDA Farm Service Agency increased from zero in 2013 to 32,464 in 2018 to 146,065 in 2019. Hemp competes for acreage against crops with established markets and decades of agronomic research and industry experience. Through 2019, the largest hemp acreage is found in States that are not leading producers of conventional field crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, or cotton. This chart is based on information in the Economic Research Service report, Economic Viability of Industrial Hemp in the United States: A Review of State Pilot Programs.

While Chinese imports are down, global cotton trade is projected at a 7-Year High in 2019

Monday, January 27, 2020

For 2019, increased imports are expected in many non-cotton-producing countries, as well as some producing ones. Although China—a major producer—is projected as the leading importer in 2019, its upcoming imports are expected to be below those from a year ago, as cotton mill use in China is forecast to decline for the second consecutive year. In contrast, all other major importers are anticipated to secure additional imports this year. For Bangladesh and Vietnam, higher cotton imports are seen as supporting the recent textile and apparel industry expansion. At the same time, a 3-decade-low production forecast for Pakistan in 2019 is expected to result in record-high cotton imports to help sustain its spinning industry. Meanwhile, higher imports are also forecast for Turkey and others in 2019. In fact, global cotton imports are forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to rise for the fourth consecutive year in 2019 to 43.8 million bales, nearly 4 percent (1.6 million bales) above last year’s volume. The growing trend is significant for the United States, as more than 80 percent of U.S. cotton production is exported to numerous countries around the world, with the U.S. share of 2019 global trade forecast at 38 percent. The 2019 global import forecast would be its highest since 2012’s record of 47.6 million bales. This chart is based on data in the ERS Cotton and Wool Outlook Tables, released in January 2020.

China’s share of U.S. cotton and textile imports decreased in the first half of 2019

Monday, September 16, 2019

USDA estimates released in August indicate the total U.S. cotton textile and apparel trade rose during the first half of 2019, compared with the corresponding period in 2018. U.S. cotton product imports totaled the equivalent of 9.0 million 480-pound bales of raw cotton during January–June 2019—2 percent higher than the same period in 2018—while cotton product exports declined slightly to 1.7 million bales. As a result, the cotton textile and apparel trade deficit was 4 percent higher during the first half of 2019. The source for U.S. cotton product imports remains concentrated among a handful of suppliers, with the top five countries accounting for nearly 68 percent of total imports during the first half of 2019. Compared with the same period in 2018, the share rose for four of the top five suppliers during the first 6 months of 2019. Only imports from China saw a decrease, as U.S. importers appeared to increase reliance on other suppliers as a result of the U.S.-China trade dispute uncertainty. Nonetheless, China remains the leading supplier of U.S. cotton product imports, accounting for nearly 30 percent of total imports during January–June of 2019. India supplied 12 percent, while Pakistan, Vietnam, and Bangladesh each contributed an additional 9 percent. This chart appears in the ERS Cotton and Wool Outlook report released in August 2019.

World cotton mill use is forecast to reach a new record in 2018/19

Friday, August 3, 2018

The latest USDA cotton projections for the 2018/19 marketing year (August-July) indicate that world cotton mill use will reach a new record high, in large part reflecting additional expected growth in the world economy. Global cotton consumption is projected at 127.0 million bales in 2018/19, 3.9 percent above 2017/18. Mill use, a proxy for consumption, is forecast to rise in each of the leading raw-cotton spinners in 2018/19, with China accounting for more than one-third of the world total. Cotton mill use growth varies by country and year of comparison. Using 2015/16 as the base year, 2018/19 world cotton consumption is projected 12 percent higher. Relative to 3 years ago, cotton mill use in China in 2018/19 is expected to be 18 percent higher, while India and Pakistan increase by just 2 and 4 percent, respectively. Cotton mill use in Bangladesh and Vietnam continues to expand, and the growth since 2015/16 has been remarkable. For Bangladesh, 2018/19 mill use is projected 27 percent higher than in 2015/16, while the growth for Vietnam is even more dramatic, with 2018/19 mill use expected to be nearly 67 percent above the 2015/16 level. This chart appears in the ERS July 2018 Cotton and Wool Outlook newsletter.

China’s share of global cotton stocks continues to decline

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The latest USDA cotton projections for 2018/19 indicate that global cotton stocks will decrease, following last season’s relatively small increase. Worldwide, USDA projects ending stocks at 83.0 million bales for the 2018/19 marketing year, nearly 6 percent below 2017/18 and the lowest since 2011/12. Global cotton stocks totaled a record 110.8 million bales at the end of 2014/15. China held 60 percent of the total, reflecting Government policies at the time that led to unusually large stocks in its national reserve. Subsequently, China implemented policies to reduce its surplus stocks and thereby lowered world stocks. For 2018/19, stocks in China are projected to decline further to 33.1 million bales—40 percent of the global total—while stocks outside China are forecast to approach a record high 50 million bales. However, as a share of world mill use, stocks outside China are expected to rise only slightly in 2018/19. In the United States, stocks have risen progressively and are on track to be their highest in a decade at 4.7 million bales. This chart appears in the ERS Cotton and Wool Outlook: June 2018.

World cotton stocks are projected to rise slightly in 2017/18

Friday, April 27, 2018

Global cotton ending stocks serve as an important benchmark and help determine worldwide cotton prices. Global cotton ending stocks are projected to increase slightly in the 2017/18 marketing year. Global ending stocks are forecast at over 88 million bales, about 2 percent above the previous season—but the second lowest since 2011/12. The rise in stocks follows back-to-back decreases over the last two marketing years. The largest holder of cotton stocks is China, which accounts for nearly 50 percent of the world total. China’s share has fluctuated in recent years, from 20 percent in 2010/11 to a high of 61 percent in 2014/15 and back down to 46 percent in the current season. Since 2014/15, China’s stocks have declined as policies to reduce the excess cotton supplies also discouraged production and limited imports. Meanwhile, stocks in the United States and for the rest of the world are projected to increase in 2017/18, largely due to increased production brought about by relative prices that favor cotton over competing crops such as corn and soybeans. This chart appears in the ERS Cotton and Wool Outlook newsletter released in April 2018.

U.S. net textile and apparel imports reached record levels in 2017

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

U.S. net textile and apparel imports increased to record levels in 2017, as demand for clothing increased along with the expanding economy. Net imports in 2017 approached 16.2 billion raw-fiber-equivalent pounds, 2 percent above 2016. Total textile and apparel imports surpassed 19.7 billion pounds in 2017, compared with 19.3 billion pounds in 2016. Meanwhile, textile and apparel exports in 2017 totaled 3.5 billion pounds, similar to a year earlier. With net imports of synthetic fiber products rising for 8 consecutive years, cotton’s share has declined considerably as growth in “athleisure” wear has increased demand for synthetic fibers. During each of the last 4 years, synthetic fiber products accounted for the largest share of total net imports. In 2017, synthetic textile and apparel products contributed 50 percent to the total, while cotton products accounted for 43 percent. Linen, wool, and silk products, combined, added an additional 7 percent. Although these percentages equaled those of 2016, suggesting at least a pause in cotton’s declining share, the percentages for cotton and synthetic products were nearly reversed just 5 years ago. This chart appears in the ERS Cotton and Wool Outlook Newsletter, released in March 2018.

U.S. upland cotton production, exports, and mill use is projected to stabilize following significant contractions in the past

Thursday, August 10, 2017

From 2006 to 2015, upland cotton exports decreased by 34 percent, production by 42 percent, and mill use by 31 percent. Key factors that drove these shifts include: increased competition from foreign suppliers, prolonged droughts that lowered production, lower import demand from China, and competition from synthetic fibers (such as polyester). While many factors limited cotton market opportunities through 2015, USDA baseline projections through 2026, which provide a long run view of the U.S. farm sector, nonetheless indicate that exports of U.S. upland cotton and mill use are expected to increase relative to the 2006-15 time period. Between 2016 and 2026, U.S. upland cotton exports and mill use are projected to rise by 3 and 7 percent, respectively, while production is expected to drop by less than 1 percent (stocks are also projected to decrease over this period). The major factors expected to drive this change are increased global demand from rising incomes and populations and the cotton crop’s reputation of superior quality relative to its competitors. This chart appears in the Amber Waves article, "U.S. Upland Cotton Exports and Mill Use Projected To Improve," released in August 2017.

Productivity gains, declining acreage lower cotton production costs

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

USDA estimates commodity costs and returns based on periodic of commodity producer surveys. Cotton producers were surveyed in 1997, 2003, 2007, and most recently in 2015. Total economic costs estimated from these cotton surveys declined from about $1.40 per pound in 1997 to $0.92 in 2015. Declining real costs of cotton production reflect productivity gains in the industry that can be traced to the adoption of new cotton production technologies and changes in where cotton is grown. Productivity gains were particularly rapid during 1997-2003 as genetically modified (GM) cotton was widely adopted and real production costs fell nearly 20 percent. Between 2003 and 2015 real production costs fell another 20 percent, while cotton acreage declined 36 percent. Cotton became more concentrated in the low-cost Southern Plains region and declined in the high-cost areas of California and the Mississippi Delta region. This chart is drawn from the ERS Commodity Costs and Returns data product, updated in May 2017.

Declining cotton stocks in China leading to a reduction of global stocks

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The latest USDA cotton projections for marketing year 2016/17 indicate that world ending stocks are forecast at 90.9 million bales, 6 percent below the previous season and 19 percent (nearly 21 million bales) lower than 2014/15’s record of 111.7 million bales. Global cotton stocks in 2016/17 are expected to decline in back-to-back years after five consecutive seasons of rising supplies. Earlier cotton prices support policies in China that contributed to the buildup in global stocks, culminating in nearly 67 million bales of cotton at the end of 2014/15. Likewise, the recent trend of declining supplies is attributable to more recent policies in China that discouraged production, limited raw cotton imports, and began the process of reducing the surplus in government-held stocks. In 2016/17, China’s cotton stocks are forecast at 49.1 million bales, nearly 18 million bales below the record and the lowest in 5 years. With combined stocks in the rest of the world expected higher in 2016/17, China’s share of global stocks are projected to decrease to 54 percent, compared with 60 percent during the previous three seasons. This chart appears in the ERS Cotton and Wool Outlook report released in April 2017.

U.S. net textile and apparel imports steady in 2016

Monday, April 3, 2017

U.S. net textile and apparel fiber imports were stable in calendar year 2016, near 2015’s record total. In 2016, net imports approached 15.8 billion raw-fiber-equivalent pounds. Total fiber product imports reached 19.3 billion pounds in 2016, compared with 19.6 billion pounds in 2015. Meanwhile, textile and apparel product exports totaled 3.5 billion pounds in 2016, compared with nearly 3.8 billion pounds a year earlier. With synthetic product imports rising for 7 consecutive years, cotton’s share has declined steadily during this period. For the last 3 years, synthetic products have accounted for the largest share of total net imports. In 2016, synthetic textile and apparel products contributed 50 percent to total net imports, while cotton products supplied 43 percent and linen, wool, and silk products provided an additional 7 percent. Compared with 5 years ago, the contributions have been reversed. In 2011, cotton accounted for 50 percent of the total net imports, while synthetics provided 44 percent. This chart appears in the ERS Cotton and Wool Outlook report released in March 2017.