• Types of cotton

    Chapter 5 - Market segments - Types of cotton 

    The cotton plant is a perennial tree that has been domesticated to be cultivated as an annual crop. Cotton is a warm climate crop and is mainly grown between 37°N and 32°S. The northern hemisphere accounts for about 90% of global cotton production. The time of planting in the northern hemisphere is the time of harvesting in the southern hemisphere.

    There are many different varieties and types of cottons. Their characteristics determine the use for the cotton, and hence its value. Cotton is a member of the order Malvales, family Malvaceae, genus Gossypium. The genus Gossypium consists of 50 wild and cultivated species, out of which only four are grown on a commercial scale in the world. Gossypium hirsutum.and G. barbadense are called New World species and account for about 95% and 3% of world production respectively. G. arboreum and G. herbaceum are called Old World or Asiatic cottons and are grown commercially in India, Pakistan and parts of South-east Asia, accounting for about 2% of world production.

    Extra long staple Egyptian, American Egyptian or Pima and Sea Island cotton belong to the species Gossypium barbadense. The fibre in this group is long, fine and strong with a staple length in excess of 32 mm (1-1/4"), a micronaire value below 4.0 and a strength of up to 40 g/tex.

    The fibre of Old World cottons is generally shorter than 25mm (1") and coarse, with a micronaire value above 6.0.

    Worldwide about 500 varieties are used for commercial cotton production. Most of them Upland species.

    Fibre specifications (the intrinsic quality of lint) primarily depend on the varieties grown, agro-climatic conditions and crop management practices. Variety is the most important factor as it determines nearly all the lint quality parameters and most of the agronomic ones. The environment, or growing conditions, determines whether the cotton meets its varietal potentiality.

    According to ICAC, world cotton supply can be divided into six categories based on commonly perceived competitive relationships between cottons of differing quality, variety and geographic origins: extra-fine, fine, high-medium, medium, coarse count and waste/padding. The categories are roughly parallel to staple length categories* but are designed to incorporate more than just staple length information because two cottons of equal length might actually have significantly different spinning characteristics.

    Extra-fine, fine and high-medium cottons are typically used in ring spinning for the production of combed yarn. Medium cotton is typically used in ring spinning for the production of carded yarn.** Coarse count cotton is typically used for producing open end yarn.

    Cotton is traded according to its type. All other things being equal, spinners pay a higher price for longer, finer and more resistant cotton lint that is white, bright and fully mature.

    Traditionally, the price of cotton was largely determined by factors such as staple length, grade, colour and micronaire. The textile industry has been striving to improve quality and efficiency through automatic high-speed machinery, which requires better fibre characteristics to operate at maximum efficiency and spin high quality yarns. This has increased the importance of other properties of cotton: strength, uniformity, maturity, fineness, elongation, neps, short fibre content, spinning performance, dyeing ability and cleanliness.

    Following the global trend toward improving yarn quality, the market share of medium and higher grades is rising, while the share of shorter (‘coarse count’) Upland cotton is declining. Medium and higher grades of Upland cottons now account for an estimated 75% of world trade, or some 7 million tons. The fastest-growing and most remunerative market for Upland cottons is for higher grades and finer cottons which can be used for producing ring spun combed yarns*** for the woven and knitted apparel sector.

    *Short (under 13/16"); medium (13/16" to 1"); medium long (1-1/32" to 1-3/32"); long (1-1/8" to 1-11/32") and extra long (1-3/8" and longer).
    **Ring spun carded yarn is typically used for knitting and weaving, in a large range of coarse to fine counts.
    ***Combed yarns are stronger, more uniform, smoother, purer and have greater shine than carded yarns. 
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    Cotton Exporter's Guide

    Brochure - African cotton promotion
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