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All about Egyptian cotton

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GOSSYPIUM BARBADENSE


Botanical illustration by Franz Eugen Köhler, 1897

Gossypium barbadense, also known as extra long staple (ELS) cotton as it generally has a staple of at least 1 3/8" or longer, is a species of cotton plant. Varieties of ELS cotton include American Pima, Egyptian Giza, Indian Suvin, Chinese Xinjiang, Sudanese Barakat, and Russian Tonkovoloknistyi. It is a tropical, frost-sensitive perennial plant that produces yellow flowers and has black seeds. It grows as a small, bushy tree and yields cotton with unusually long, silky fibers. To grow, it requires full sun and high humidity and rainfall.

This plant contains the chemical gossypol, which reduces its susceptibility to insect and fungal damage. In Suriname’s traditional medicine, the leaves of G. barbadense are used to treat hypertension and delayed/irregular menstruation.

HISTORY

The name Pima was applied in honour of the Pima Indians, who helped raise the cotton on USDA experimental farms in Arizona in the early 1900s. The first clear sign of domestication of this cotton species comes the Early Valdivia phase site of Real Alto on the coast of Ecuador (4400 BC) and from Ancon, a site on the Peruvian coast, where cotton bolls dating to 4200 BC were found.

According to other accounts, Real Alto cotton is dated to 3500-3000 BC, and the oldest coastal Peru cotton is dated 2500 BC.

By 1000 BC, Peruvian cotton bolls were indistinguishable from modern cultivars of G. barbadense. Cotton growing became widespread in South America and spread to the West Indies, where Christopher Columbus encountered it. Cotton became a commercial plantation crop tended by slaves in the West Indies, so that by the 1650s, Barbados had become the first British West Indies colony to export cotton.

Sea Island cotton
In about 1786, planting of Sea Island cotton began in the former British North American colonies, on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia, when cotton planters were brought over from Barbados. Among the earliest planters of Sea Island cotton in America was an Englishman, Francis Levett, who later fled his Georgia plantation at the outbreak of the American Revolution and went to the Bahamas, where he attempted to introduce cotton production, but failed. Sea Island cotton commanded the highest price of all the cottons, due to its long staple (1.5 to 2.5 inches, 35 to 60 mm) and its silky texture; it was used for the finest cotton counts and often mixed with silk. It was also grown on the uplands of Georgia, where the quality was inferior, and was soon surpassed in commercial production by another native American species, upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum), which today represents about 95% of U.S. production.

Egyptian cotton
The term Egyptian cotton is usually applied to the extra long staple cotton produced in Egypt and used by luxury and upmarket brands worldwide. It also has the most upper thread count.

UNITED STATES AGRICULTURAL POLICY

American Pima accounts for less than 5% of U.S. cotton production. It is grown chiefly in California, with small acreages in West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

For purposes of federal support, the 2002 farm bill (P.L. 101-171, Sec. 1001) defined ELS cotton.

ELS cotton, like upland cotton, is eligible for marketing assistance loans and loan deficiency payments (LDPs). The national loan rate for ELS cotton under the 2002 farm bill was $0.7977 per pound. ELS cotton, in contrast to upland cotton, does not qualify for direct payments or counter-cyclical payments.

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