It costs money to make money, and cotton producers from across the country recently learned how their money is used to keep cotton on the consumers’ “got-to-have” list and creatively covering up birthday suits around the world.
Cotton farmers know for each bale of cotton they sell, $1 plus one-half of one percent of the bale’s value is collected by the Cotton Board. The assessment ended up being about $2.50 per bale last year.
The Cotton Board contracts with Cotton Incorporated projects and grants to increase the demand and profitability of cotton through research and promotion, from state-level farm production to national and global projects relating to manufacturing.
The Cotton Board organizes two to three multi-regional producer tours each year to bring producers from around the country to Cotton Incorporated headquarters in Cary, N.C., to show off the facility and research conducted in house, which includes fiber processing, dyeing, finishing, product development and product analysis.
The facility’s most notable recent coup came when it worked with Under Armour to launch what the company calls Charged Cotton. Offered in more than 60 Under Armour items, Charged Cotton is the company’s leading seller now, a far cry from just a few years ago when Under Armour publicly called cotton out as an enemy.
“I tell you (the Cotton Incorporated headquarters) is a lot like a mini-spinning factory. With all the tests they do, I thought it was very well organized and informative, and I understand a lot more about the tests they are doing to help manufactures cut costs and the products developed to help keep cotton’s market share,” said Donnie Wakefield, who farms in Jackson, S.C., and plans to plant 1,200 to 1,400 acres of cotton this year, the most he has had in many years.
If he was a bit skeptical of the cotton assessment before, he said he isn’t now. His reaction mirrored those of the other 85 farmers on the tour.
“I had no idea after the cotton left the gin how it was handled and what all went into it down the line and to consumers,” Wakefield said.
“Considering what we have to compete with, I’m not at all aggravated as I might have been before about the assessment. I think it is money well spent and needed. … In fact, I’d like to go (on the tour) again to pick up on what I might have missed.”
He specifically liked the work focusing on getting more cotton into women’s clothing. “I come from a family with a lot of ladies and they say it is hard to find women’s clothes with cotton in them. That’s a good focus. Women buy most of the clothes anyway, right?” Wakefield said.
The Cotton Incorporated producer tours are funded in part by John Deere, Monsanto Company and Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc.
$83 million dollar company
‘Cotton Incorporated will be a $83 million company in 2013, said Berrye Worsham, CI’s president and CEO.
Half the money comes from cotton producers and the other half comes from the assessment of cotton imports into the U.S., arriving mostly as yarn or finished products.
He expects the 2014 budget to be down $8 million in 2014, due mostly to reduced acreage in 2013, lower prices and reduced imports. (According to USDA’s March planting intentions report, producers will plant 10 million acres this year, down 20 percent from last year.)
The U.S. cotton business is still recovering, or working through, a run in prices in early 2011, when cotton prices reached all-time highs, marching near $2 per pound for a short time.
This threw a shockwave through the supply chain. Cotton demand shrank and it lost market share to its main competitor, polyester, which was selling for $1.20 to $1.30 per pound less than cotton at the time.
“The impact this had on the market was dramatic, to put it lightly,” Worsham said.
Cotton and polyester are more closely priced now. “But the mindset is still there, and it will take some years of some stability in price before that kind of washes through the memory banks of retailers.
“So, the next couple of years on the demand side we are still facing the challenges of that tremendous run up in price,” he said.
Cotton’s share of the world’s staple fiber is a good indicator of how it is doing in the home furnishings and apparel markets.
That share was 60 percent a few years ago. It dropped in 2011 to 54 percent and 2012’s share is expected to drop even a bit lower, Worsham said. “So, the difference in market share from where we were just a few years ago to today is the equivalent of maybe 12, 13 or even 14 million bales.”
But Cotton Incorporated is working to re-introduce consumers to cotton clothes, most recently during Cotton’s 24 Hour Runway Show, which took place March 1-2. It sent 1,440 cotton looks down the runway from 74 different retailers, brands and designers, said Andrea Samber, Cotton Incorporated’s co-director of strategic alliances.
The runway show was first introduced in 2011, partnered with MTV and had 7 participating retailers and such. That year 15,000 people watched the show online.
Now in its third year, Cotton Incorporated partnered this year with people.com and People Stylewatch magazine. More than 678,000 people watched the 2013 show, or 4,377 percent more than watched in 2011.
This, matched with Cotton’s “The Fabric Of Our Lives” slogan and campaign, which each year puts a young female celebrity as its spokesman, Samber said, is getting cotton back front and center in consumer’s faces.