Beyond the fluff: Growing Australia’s cotton industry

By Kate Langford

6 April 2017

3 minute read

A boll of cotton

You wear it, sleep in it, dry yourself with it and perhaps even clean your ears with it. But did you know Aussie innovation is helping the fashion industry get quality pants from a plant?

Even though Australia is a relatively minor cotton producer on the world scale, we’ve made a big impression on the industry globally. We are part of a unique partnership which has develop more than 100 varieties – the only varieties used in Australia – and they produce among the best cotton there is.

These varieties:

Australian cotton provides the highest yields in the world and it’s arguably the world’s finest. Almost one quarter of the cotton grown in the US and about one-third of the cotton in Brazil, Turkey and Greece are from varieties we bred. We are also in the world’s top four exporters, sending an average of $2 billion worth of raw cotton abroad each year.

This week, Cotton Seed Distributors (CSD), the only company in Australia that supplies cotton seed, celebrates its 50th anniversary – and 46 of those years have been in partnership with us.

Along with the CSD and the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC), we’re leading the world in breeding and bringing to market high-yielding and pest and disease resistant cotton varieties.

From plants to pants

Each spring, cotton seed is planted into farms across the country. The plants are nurtured until they produce fruit, known as bolls. Inside each boll is the fluffy white lint we know as cotton as well as cotton seeds.

Bolls are picked by mechanical harvesters in autumn and processed to separate the long fibres (lint) from the seed. This lint is then put into bales and sent overseas to be manufactured into yarn and then fabric. The remaining cotton seed also has its uses. It’s included in cattle feed or crushed to produce an oil for cooking, soap, margarine, cosmetics and other products.

The short fibres that remain on the seed are subsequently removed and used in bandages, cotton buds and even bank notes.

Next time you slip into your t-shirt and pants (14% of the world’s cotton goes into producing denim jeans) you can feel proud of Australia’s leading role as an innovator in the cotton industry.