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Producing the natural fiber naturally: Technological change and the US organic cotton industry


  • Mrill Ingram


Organic cotton productionboomed in the early 1990s only to fall steeplymid-decade. Production is currently rising, butslowly, and has yet to reach previous levels.This is in marked contrast to the steady growthin organic food production during the 1990s.Why, when other areas of organic productionexperienced steady growth, did organic cottonexperience a boom and bust? A study of thecotton production and processing industryreveals a long and heavily industrializedproduction chain that has presented numerouschallenges to growers and processors trying tointroduce an organic product. In addition, muchof the surge in demand for organic cotton clothoriginated with clothing manufacturersresponding to increased consumer environmentalconcern and interest in improving theirenvironmental reputations. This demandevaporated when clothing companies encountereda lack of consumer awareness of theenvironmental costs of conventional cottonproduction and the benefits of organic cotton.Organic clothing lines were abandoned and manycotton farmers, left with no market for theirorganic bales, were forced to either store thebales or sell them on the conventional marketfor a loss. An examination of the social andtechnical aspects of organic cotton productionidentifies some of the critical variables, suchas the risks farmers face in agriculturalproduction, the organic standards, sources ofinnovation in technological change, and the roleof consumer demand in supporting moresustainable technology, all of which shape thecontinuing development of organic products. Copyright Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Suggested Citation

  • Mrill Ingram, 2002. "Producing the natural fiber naturally: Technological change and the US organic cotton industry," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 19(4), pages 325-336, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:agrhuv:v:19:y:2002:i:4:p:325-336
    DOI: 10.1023/A:1021140001193

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Laura Raynolds, 2000. "Re-embedding global agriculture: The international organic and fair trade movements," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 17(3), pages 297-309, September.
    2. Patricia Allen & Martin Kovach, 2000. "The capitalist composition of organic: The potential of markets in fulfilling the promise of organic agriculture," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 17(3), pages 221-232, September.
    3. Greene, Catherine R., 2001. "U.S. Organic Farming Emerges in the 1990s: Adoption of Certified Systems," Agricultural Information Bulletins 33777, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
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