An orientation towards production still dominates in the cotton industry. This can be seen as a decisive disadvantage towards chemical fibres, which are growing stronger and stronger. In contrast to natural fibres, chemical fibres offer unlimited and continuous availability for further processing. Also, they are often superior to natural fibres due to long-term investments into research and development. The editors of the Bremen Cotton Report had solutions for this dilemma explained by Jürg Reinhart in his function as board member of the Swiss Paul Reinhart AG. Apart from his role in the international cotton trade, Jürg Reinhart is President of the International Cotton Association (ICA), Liverpool.
Bremen Cotton Report: Mr. Reinhart, please describe the driving forces or also the obstructive forces that influence the production development resp. the production supply of cotton currently and in the past ten years.
Jürg Reinhart: From a global perspective, the supply of cotton is known to be influenced by the obtainable market price and by the competition with other fibres, but also with other field crops. One specific of cotton is, however, that increased production volumes have not led to an increased cotton acreage globally and over a time of more than 30 years, unlike other field crops like soya or grain.
What are the reasons for this?
Yield improvements in specific crop areas have a great influence on the production volumes of cotton. They result, on the one hand, from the use of more fertile seeds with an improved fibre quality, on the other hand from a more efficient cotton growing practice, propped by practical experience, training and development, such as in Brazil, Australia and several developing countries. Last, but not least, the results of research and development have had a great influence. This includes integrated pest management measures and also the usage of BT-cotton, which have considerably contributed to strengthening the efficiency. In the future, the digitalisation of production control and management may also be a growing factor.
What influence does the demand for competing field crops have on the cotton production?
Almost everywhere in the world, cotton farmers can make free and flexible decisions about what crop they produce, suitable for their soils as well as the regional climate. If farmers are able to gain a better price with grain, soya or sugar cane and sesame, or if they pursue different interests, the cotton growing area will decrease. We notice this, for example, in some areas in India or in Africa, too. The costs of growing cotton in relation to those of growing competing agricultural pro-ducts also influence the decisions about what is grown. From a global perspective, cotton is currently still a cash crop in comparison to other field crops, and a lot should be done in order for it to remain one.
Which factors will fuel the cotton consumption in the future? Are these only the prices of chemical fibres or also the availability of cotton?
Prices and the availability of raw materials are and will remain decisive factors influencing the consumption of fibres and thus also of cotton. We can safely assume that the consumption of fibres will continue to grow. The growth itself, though, will mainly be dominated by chemical fibres. Their prices are lower than those of cotton in correlation to the currently low oil prices. Nevertheless, the consumption of cotton will increase as well, if a bit more slowly, be it through processing into pure cotton products or else into products made of fibre mixtures, for instance with polyester.
Where do you see deficits compared to chemical fibres?
Cotton is greatly appreciated, for example in home and house textiles or in the underwear section, as a natural, regenerative and biologically degradable and thus sustainable fibre. The section of outdoor clothing, though, is dominated by chemical fibres due to their value-adding technical characteristics that are developed by the industry for consumption purposes. While the cotton industry has invested a lot into research and development in the area of cotton growing, the investments into developing high-tech consumer properties, like those predominant with chemical fibres, drag behind. Only now has the communication about first, quite interesting results begun. According to my impression, though, it is rather the start-up-companies that manage to break away from established thought patterns and to use the natural properties of cotton in order to apply them for high-tech and smart textile products.
What role does the topic of sustainability plays for the consumption of cotton?
It is certain that a sustainable consumption is gradually coming more into the focus of consumers. Big retail chains and the textile and clothing industry are reacting and slowly developing their own sustainability strategies. In our experience, though, it is a fact that the topic of organic cotton is still a niche within a niche, due to its restrictions in cultivation and in availability. Instead, initiatives like the Better Cotton Initiative are quickly gaining importance because they try to develop conventional cotton cultivation in a modern way. They achieve this development towards a more sustainably growing productivity, conserving resources and according to ecological stipulations, by using consequent trainings that are customised for the local conditions.
We thank you for this interview!