By the year 2050, the world population will have increased by some 3 billion souls, up to 9 billion people inhabiting this planet. And they’ll all need food and fiber to survive.

“By 2050, the world demand for fiber will increase four to five fold,” says Allen Terhaar, executive director for Cotton Council International.

Terhaar spoke at the Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., annual meeting in Lubbock and said fiber production over the next 40 years must increase in a way “that’s sustainable and easy on the environment.

“Cotton has a good chance of capturing a big part of the demand for fiber,” he said. It’s a good year to praise cotton. “The year 2009 is the International Year of Natural Fibers. Cotton makes up more than 80 percent of the international fiber supply. It adds billions of dollars to the world economy and creates millions of jobs.”

And it’s sustainable. Terhaar said surveys have shown that pesticides and genetically modified plant issues “are not among the highest concerns of consumers overseas.” He says reactions are different between food products and fiber for pesticide use. “It’s also different for genetic modifications. The world is changing and in our favor. Cotton did not begin with as much concern over genetic modifications as with food.”

He said the impression globally is that cotton is the most environmentally friendly of natural fibers. “In the United States, cotton rates even a little higher. Synthetic fibers are far down the list.”

He said cotton is considered “the best fiber for today’s fabrics. Consumers say consistently they would pay more for natural fibers, by a 60 percent to 65 percent margin.”

Terhaar said research at Cotton Incorporated seeks to improve cotton as a food and fiber plant with potential for cottonseed to provide more protein for people. “CI also is looking for drought resistant varieties and is working to map the cotton genome.” He cited work by Texas Tech researcher Tina Williams as important in improving cotton.

He also noted promotion efforts by Cotton Council International, including events such as a Sourcing Summit in the fall of 2008 in Turkey. “Next to China, Turkey is the biggest market for U.S. cotton growth. Viet Nam is also a rapidly growing market for U.S. cotton.”

He said cotton accounts for 12 percent of U.S. agricultural exports. “China is the biggest export market for cotton; the United States is still the second biggest.”

Terhaar said cotton is part of a new Green Revolution and is sustainable. Biotechnology, he said, will be an important factor in meeting food and fiber demand. He quoted Dr. Normal Borlaug: “The Green Revolution and new biotechnology helps meet the food demand and preserves the environment for future generations.”

email: rsmith@farmpress.com