Cotton Incorporated Hosts 2020 Cotton Farm Tours
December 2, 2020

Brands and retailers virtually tour two farms and attend presentations on cotton production

Last month, Cotton Incorporated hosted 46 professionals representing 27 brands and retailers for its annual Cotton Farm Tours. Travel restrictions and COVID-19 crowd precautions meant that 2020’s Cotton Farm Tours were virtual, but participants still left with a greater understanding of the crop and its latest sustainability practices from the growing to classification.


Cotton Lifecycle’s Effect on Quality

2020’s Cotton Farm Tours began with a presentation by Mark Messura, senior vice president of Cotton Incorporated’s Global Supply Chain Marketing division. Messura walked participants through the cotton plant’s lifecycle and the elements that impact cotton’s quality classification. Messura noted that although cotton is a perennial, U.S. growers plant it annually to ensure large yields and high quality. Replanting perennials results in a large variability of boll maturity at harvest, but most U.S. cotton takes approximately 50 days for bolls to reach full maturity. Some key developmental factors that affect cotton quality include:


  • Cotton seeds must be fertilized for optimal fiber development.
  • Cotton fibers elongate over several weeks after fertilization, and environmental conditions play a large role in elongation rates.
  • Cotton fibers develop a second cell wall after elongation, which is pivotal to yarn and fabric quality.
  • Cotton fibers must die before they mature: drying bends and twists fibers together.
  • If drying begins before the secondary wall has fully developed, fibers take on the shape of a flat ribbon.


Understanding and improving growing conditions across cotton’s lifecycle helps decrease energy use, soil loss, water use and land use while improving crop yields and quality.


Visit our resources on fiber science to learn more about cotton fiber development and maturation.


Touring Two Sustainable Cotton Farms


Donny Lassiter, a U.S. cotton producer in North Carolina, and Lacy Varderman, a producer in Texas, provided virtual tours of their farms and gave presentations on the steps they take to produce cotton more sustainably. Both employ conservation tillage and soil analysis to decrease run off and improve soil health between plantings.


Lassiter also discussed how variable rate fertilizer has helped him improve yields at a lower cost and that he practices integrated pest management to help preserve the farm for the next generation. Varderman noted she also uses far fewer chemicals to grow cotton than her father did, in part because of improvements in genetically modified cotton seeds. As a cotton and cattle producer, cover crops serve a dual purpose: improving soil health and as grazing feed.


These videos depict Lassiter’s and Varderman’s farms their sustainability practices in their own words.

Cotton Ginning and Quality Classification


The Cotton Farm Tour ended with presentations on modern ginning techniques and quality classification. The ginning process separates seeds and fibers and employs the Permanent Bale Identification (PBI) system to track the fiber until it reaches the spinning mill. Traceability through PBI allows growers to overlay quality and yield metrics onto maps of their farms to identify areas for soil remediation.


Fiber qualities are assigned to the PBI. Quality classifications are determined through a combination of evaluations using High Volume Instrument (HVI) technology and a skilled cotton classer. Quality factors, their variability and their effect on brand’s and retailer’s products include:


  • Staple length: affects yarn strength, evenness, and efficiency of the spinning process and is susceptible to extreme temperatures, water stress, insects, and nutrient deficiencies.
  • Strength: Determined by plant genetics and its response to environmental factors.
  • Micronaire (fiber fineness): Yarn with finer fibers will have more fibers in the cross-section, making the yarn stronger. Evenness also determines dyeing characteristics. Used to assess the market value of cotton and is the most influenced by environmental conditions.
  • Color: Impacted by rainfall, freezes, harvesting and storage.
  • Trash: The amount of leaf and bark removed during harvesting.

Learn more about harvesting and ginning or fiber qualities and evaluation on our fiber science websites.


Cotton Incorporated hosts the Cotton Farm Tours each year to give professionals from the spinning mill and beyond a glimpse into responsible cotton production from field to classing. Grasping the environmental and agricultural factors that determine fiber quality and their own product quality can make a big difference to brands’ and retailers’ sustainability efforts.


The work we do is possible because of collaborations with researchers like these and partnerships with people all throughout the value chain. Ready to commit to sustainably produced cotton? Become a Cotton LEADSSM partner today. Interested in doing even more? Contact us for ideas to get the most out of sustainable cotton and your partnership with Cotton LEADS.


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