Sustainable Cotton Production

The key to making cotton a sustainable crop is the integration of several factors such as climate, soil, water availability and social structure, with varietal changes, the use of technological systems of last generation and training agricultural technicians on systems integration.

Cotton production in Spain has been gradually decreasing since 2005 with 86,100 hectares planted, until 2015 in which 64,500 hectares were planted.

The reason for this reduction was twofold, the implementation in 2006 of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) and the increasingly negative balance between income and expenses compared to other alternative crops as corn, sugar beet, sunflower or tomato for processing. These crops have higher profitability, reduced risk, and reduced finance requirements that have made them more attractive at the expense of cotton.

The cotton must be sustainable to meet the needs of the gin industry and other ancillary industries of this crop. This is the reason that encouraged us to study agronomy and technology facts that could make cotton sustainable over time against competitors.

In our research into how to increase sustainability, we found three fundamental factors to re-energize cotton in Spain.

Changing the germplasm used to achieve varieties.

  1. Using the latest technologies applied in irrigation systems.
  2.  Setting up integrated crop management programs run.

We evaluated the different factors and their contribution to the success of the sustainability of the project, and we obtained the following percentages:

  • 60% – The varietal change provides 60% of success achieved.
  • 25% – The implementation of the new generation of irrigation systems provided 25% of success achieved.
  • 15% – The use of integrated management programs through specialized technicians provided a 15% of the success achieved.


All varieties planted in Spain until the beginning of this project in 2007 were Upland varieties of the species Gossypium hirsutum, and whose characteristics were:

  • MEDIUM-SHORT CYCLES with 1150-1250 DD-15.5 ° C (accumulated degree days at 15.5 ° C )
  • FIBER LENGTH: Of 26 to 29 mm.
  • FIBER STRENGTH: 28 to 30 grams / tex
  • MICRONAIR: 3.8 to 4.2
  • INTERNATIONAL AVERAGE PRICES OF FIBER: Fluctuations between 55 to 80 cents per pound

It was essential to change to a germplasm that, while maintaining current production levels, could produce a quality fiber whose average prices in the international market fluctuated between 90 and 115 cents per pound.

To get these prices it was urgent to change current varieties belonging to the species Gossypium Hirsutum to others from the species Gossypium Barbadense. Because of the high quality extra long fiber and market prices between 90 and 120 cents a pound, this change increases crop profitability and makes the cotton sustainable.

However, we found that the plant life cycle of extra-long fiber varieties from Gossypium Barbadense (Egyptian type) is too long for the growing areas of Spain and Greece, so we had to start breeding new varieties from crosses between species of Gossypium Hirsutum x Gosypium Barbadian whose final result was obtaining interspecific hybrids that may develop in Spain the complete life cycle and whose characteristics were:

  • MEDIUM CYCLE : with 1200-1300 DD-15.5 ° C (Degree Days at 15.5 ° C)
  • FIBER LENGTH: 34 to 36 mm.
  • FIBER STRENGTH: 34-38 grams / tex
  • MICRONAIR: 3.8 to 4.2

INTERNATIONAL AVERAGE PRICES OF FIBER: fluctuations between 90 to 115 cents per pound

These new interspecific hybrids were successfully produced on an R&D multidisciplinary program, and promoted the sustainability of the crop: +10%

Improvement in productivity of 10% thanks to hybrid vigor and greater DSI (drought susceptibility index), higher resistance to diseases (Verticillium Daliae) and pests (Heliothis and Red spider mite): +35-50%

Up to 35 to 50% higher prices over Upland Cotton.


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