- On the farm, mechanically harvested cotton is pressed into large round modules or large rectangular, truck-sized blocks
- The modules are then transported to a cotton gin (short for en-gin) for the first stage of processing
- Cotton gins are factories that separate cottonseed and trash from the lint (raw cotton fibre)
- Australia’s cotton gins are located in regional areas where the cotton is grown to reduce transport costs
- Ginning is done in a series of stages using large, fast moving mechanical saws that “strip” the cotton lint from the seeds and blowers to remove as much trash as possible
- The white fluffy lint is then pressed into cotton bales using a bale press, and covered with bale covers made from a cotton knit fabric to minimise contamination
- A cotton gin can produce 60-100 cotton bales an hour
- An Australian cotton bale weighs 227kg (500 pounds)
- Cottonseed represents approximately 50% of ginned cotton’s weight
- Cotton fibre represents 40% of ginned cotton’s weight
- Trash represents the remaining 10% of ginned cotton’s weight and is made up of mostly leaves and sticks
- The trash is sometimes used in products that clean up oil spills and also in ethanol manufacturing
- Following the ginning process, samples of cotton are collected from each bale for classing
- Cotton classing sorts the fibre into different quality based grades. The better the fibre quality, the higher the grade and the more the grower is paid for the cotton
- There are many factors in cotton classing that determine the grade including colour, staple length, fibre strength, micronaire, neps (or knottiness), stickiness and trash content
- Australia enjoys an open, sophisticated and highly competitive marketing system whereby growers forward sell their crops directly to independent marketing companies
- The Australian Cotton Shippers Association (ACSA) represents these companies and keeps an update-to-date list of their members at http://www.austcottonshippers.com.au
- These companies then “on sell” the cotton into overseas markets, and pay the grower
- Once the cotton bales are ginned, pressed and containerised, they are loaded on to trucks and trains and sent to port for shipping, mostly to overseas markets
- The main ports for Australian cotton are in Brisbane and Sydney, with some cotton shipped from Melbourne
- The cotton bales are warehoused, and once they’re sold and ready to be shipped are loaded into large shipping containers
- The main customers for Australian cotton are spinning mills located in south east Asia – China is Australia’s largest buyer of cotton
Spinning and Weaving
- When the cotton bales arrive at the spinning mills, they are first opened and checked for contamination
- Bales of cotton are put into a blower to separate all the fibres, and are then combed, carded and spun into yarn
- This yarn is then woven or knitted into fabric
- Dyeing can occur at either yarn or fabric stage, and more rarely the cotton fibre itself can be dyed (to make melange fabrics)
- This fabric can then be sewn into all sorts of cotton products including clothing and industrial products like tarpaulins and rope
- Most of the Australian cotton crop is spun and woven overseas
- Cotton Australia’s ‘Cotton to Market’ program was established to create confidence to use cotton in the textile supply chain, position Australian cotton in a future that demands responsibly-produced cotton and create value for Australia’s cotton growers
Cotton Australia promotes Australian cotton through three main programs:
- Cotton LEADS™ is a program that is committed to responsible cotton production and is founded on core principles that are consistent with sustainability, the use of best practices and traceability in the supply chain. This joint program, initiated by the Australia and the US cotton industries, offers manufacturers, brands and retailers a reliable cotton supply chain and confidence that their raw material is responsibly produced and identified.
- The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) operates as a not-for-profit organisation. BCI brings together farmers, ginners, traders, spinners, retailers, brands and grassroots organisations in a unique global community committed to developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.
- Australian Cotton Story: direct engagement helps share our story with Australian and international brands, retailers, manufacturers and designers
- Internationally, there are a number of additional cotton promotion programs, each one contributing to the global effort to position cotton as a fibre of choice in the world textile market.
- Cotton Made in Africa is run by the Aid by Trade Foundation, and follows an innovative approach in development cooperation and ‘social business’ principles.
- Fairtrade Cotton is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. Fairtrade provides a certification system and product labels (FAIRTRADE Mark) to connect consumers and producers.
- Organic Exchange is a not-for-profit organisation focused on creating environmental and social benefits through the expansion of organic agriculture. The organisation’s cotton project focuses on transitioning 10% of the world’s supply and demand of cotton to organic cotton within 10 years.
© Cotton Australia 2016. This material is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 International License (CC BY CC BY-NC 4)