Chapter 5 - Market segments - Extra long staple cotton
The term ‘extra long staple’ (ELS) cotton typically denotes a cotton fibre of extraordinary fibre length. The recognized industry standard for the minimum fibre length of an ELS fibre is 1-3/8" or 34.925 mm. This minimum is significantly longer than traditional varieties of cotton, known as Upland cottons, where the staple length can average 26–27 mm. ELS varieties, by comparison, can see fibre lengths exceed 40mmat the top end. A comparison of the fibre lengths of Upland cottons and ELS cottons can be seen in figure 5.1, which uses data for American cottons obtained from USDA. The graph is represented in terms of percentages as the different bale volumes of Upland cotton and ELS cottons in the United States do not yield a valuable visual data set.As well as fibre length, ELS cottons are also recognized for their superior strength and better uniformity. Figure 5.2 shows an example of a typical strength comparison between an Upland cotton and an ELS cotton.However, even with all the benefits of the ELS fibre characteristics and its apparent desirability, it is grown only in limited quantities. ELS and LS (long staple) cottons represent only about 3% of the entire world’s cotton production. The ELS cotton varieties are specific in their needs to produce a successful crop. A significant amount of crop management is required for ELS cottons, above and beyond that of Upland cottons. ELS cottons tend to be very vigorous plants and if not managed will grow to be large plants with minimal fibre production. Also, the relative yield of ELS cottons is never as high as their Upland cotton counterparts. Environmental conditions for ELS cottons are specific: they can be grown only in the limited areas that suit the plant’s needs for hot days and cool nights. All of these factors result in higher production costs, with increased risks compared to Upland cotton. This in turn is a major limiting factor for the production of ELS cottons.
Figure 5.1: Comparison of lengths of Upland and ELS cottons
Figure 5.2: Comparison of strength of Upland and ELS cottonsELS cottons have found their way into specialty products with appropriate price margins to absorb the additional production costs. An original ELS variety that was grown in the Caribbean and the United States during the 1600s and 1700s was known as Sea Island cotton in recognition of the island where it was produced – Sea Island, Georgia, United States. Other names have also been generically associated with ELS cottons. The name Pima is generally applied in the global marketplace to identify products that are purportedly made with ELS cottons. The Pima name itself comes from the United States: USDA gave the Pima name to the ELS cotton that it was breeding in Sacaton, Arizona, in recognition of the Pima Indians who were instrumental in growing the cottons and running the field trials. The Pima name is now used by other ELS producing nations such as Peru, Australia and Israel. The name Egyptian cotton is also broadly recognized as being associated with quality products. However, only a smaller percentage of Egyptian cotton produced each year is actually ELS cotton. The majority of Egyptian production is a long staple cotton variety called Giza 86. Unfortunately, the name of Egyptian cotton has been unable to maintain its high status level because of a variety of products that are made with Egyptian cotton but are most often not made with the finest cottons from Egypt. A similar thing has happened with the Pima name: it has not been controlled or managed to protect its value and market position as a premium product. As ELS cottons account only for about 3% of global cotton production, Pima’s position in the product marketplace should stand in the top 3% of home textiles and apparel products. In order to maintain and expand ELS production, the value of the fibre needs to be maintained by protecting and promoting its uniqueness and by putting it into products that can feature and highlight the superior fibre.