Cotton Traceability – United States

U.S. cotton traceability yields confidence


The ability to trace cotton through the supply chain is essential for brands, retailers and manufacturers that carefully manage their products, risks and reputations. Traceability means a company has the ability to track where cotton originated.


The United States leads the way in cotton traceability with a comprehensive tracking and identification system starting at the cotton gin. Dedicated farmers, state-of-the-art technology and standardized federal oversight are key elements to the traceable, responsibly produced cotton that U.S. cotton farmers offer your supply chain.


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service uses Permanent Bale Identification (PBI) tags to identify U.S. cotton bales from the cotton gin to the point of initial manufacturing with the cotton. The U.S. is the only country to use this form of permanent bale identification, which is applied to every cotton bale after it has been ginned.

Follow the Bale:

Cotton Traceability Through The Supply Chain


Once the cotton is ready for harvest, farmers use mechanized harvesting equipment for efficient collection of the fiber and cottonseed. From the farm, cotton is transported in large "modules" of fiber and seed to a gin for processing.


Upon arrival at the gin, modules are processed to separate the fiber from seed. After ginning, each bale is labeled with a Permanent Bale Identification (PBI) tag that identifies the bale, the gin and the USDA classing office. Two small samples are taken from each side of the bale and assigned a PBI number that matches the number asigned to the bale. Samples are sent to one of ten USDA classing offices.


Cotton classification refers to the application of official standards and procedures for measuring cotton attributes that can affect manufacturing or the finished product. For each bale sample, the USDA classing office measures fiber properties including length, strength, uniformity and micronaire using HVI® (high volume instrument) methods. The cotton quality data from each sample is linked to the bale.


After ginning and cotton classification, cotton bales are warehoused and ready for purchase. Cotton purchases and sales are typically managed by merchants or cooperatives. Because every bale of cotton that enters the market from the U.S. is labeled with a unique bale identification number and barcode, textile mills have the ability to trace bales back to the gin and access their unique fiber property data.


The final step in the cotton traceability process is arrival at the spinning mill. Fiber quality data are often sent electronically to the mill by the merchant or cooperative or can be accessed by the mill from the USDA National Database.

Now that you’ve followed the bale through the supply chain, follow cotton through its circular life cycle with this interactive model.

Take the Journey

Accountability Down the Chain

Explore the research and resources we’ve pulled this information from.