Facts Behind the Fiber: Organic Cotton

“Organic cotton is cotton that is produced and certified to organic agricultural standards. Its production sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people by using natural processes rather than artificial inputs. Importantly organic cotton farming does not allow the use of toxic chemicals or GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Instead, it combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote a good quality of life for all involved.”

Recently I was informed that chemicals do not contaminate cotton, because the boll (the seed pod of the cotton plant) is closed when spraying occurs. Before we share anything with our readers, we like to get all our facts straight, so we went straight to the source and spoke with Kelly Pepper, who has been involved in cotton farming since the ‘80s and the manager of Texas Organic Marketing Cooperative.

His response? It depends on the time of the year and the situation.

There are two types of cotton harvesting: mechanical and hand-picked. The USA, Brazil, and Argentina are some of the countries that use mechanical harvesting, while cotton is picked by hand in most developing countries.

For mechanical harvesting, the plant is commercially defoliated by spraying the plant with herbicides, which causes the leaves to drop so the plant can be harvested without the leaves. If the leaves are not dried out, the green leaf of the boll can stain or be swiped up into the cotton gathering process, causing the cotton to be stained. The chemical defoliation application is made after a majority of the bolls are open which exposes the fiber to the chemical. In Texas, cotton is usually ready for harvesting in mid-October. The organic farmers will wait until a freeze around mid-November, which naturally causes the plant to drops its leaves.

Cotton that is picked by hand is less likely to be sprayed, but there’s still a possibility. When a plant grows, the lower branches will produce the boll first. As the plant continues to grow, the top of the plants may need to be sprayed with pesticides. Plants can still be sprayed for insects when the lower bolls are open and ready to be hand-picked. This means insecticides would be sprayed on the plant, landing on the open boll and contaminating the cotton.  


What would you like to learn more about in our next Facts Behind the Fiber?