Interview with Bruce Atherley

Bruce Atherley
Bruce Atherley
Executive Director
Cotton Council International
Cotton Council International

US cotton industry to establish national quantifiable goals for sustainability
Cotton Council International (CCI) is the export promotion arm of the National Cotton Council of America (NCC) and a non-profit trade association that promotes US cotton fibres and manufactured cotton products around the globe under the Cotton USA trademark. CCI works with spinning mills, fabric and garment manufacturers, brands, retailers, textile associations, governments and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to facilitate the use of US cotton. Executive director Bruce Atherley sheds light on the demand for US cotton, long term sustainability goals and the latest at the association.

What is CCI's forecast for the upland and extra-long staple (ELS) US cotton acreage in 2018?

USDA's forecast for US upland cotton acreage for 2018 is 13.79 million acres. The USDA forecast for 2018 US ELS acreage is 248,000 acres.

What quantity is exported by the US annually? How much is the domestic consumption of cotton?

According to USDA, the United States exported 15.85 million bales in marketing year 2017 ending July and is projected to export 15.5 million bales in marketing year 2018.  Domestic consumption was 3.2 million bales in 2017. For 2018, USDA has projected an increase in domestic consumption to 3.4 million bales.

Does cotton still remain white gold, or the demand for man-made fibres (MMF) and viscose has affected the global consumption of cotton?

Demand for MMF has affected the global consumption of cotton. According to Wood Mackenzie Chemicals, global final consumer demand for cotton has increased by 1 per cent since 2008, while global final consumer demand for MMF has increased by 70 per cent over the same period.  However, in more recent years, we have seen cotton's market share stabilise.  Current projections put global cotton consumption at an all-time high despite the competition from MMF.

There are various new fabrics that mimic cotton and silk and promise a smaller carbon footprint. What does it mean for cotton? What steps are being introduced to make it more sustainable?

Of the thousands of US cotton growers-predominantly family farms-100 per cent of them are committed to continual improvement that positions US cotton to support society's quality of life for future generations. The US cotton industry continues to invest in research and adopt responsible production practices that not only promote economic sustainability but also minimise impact on natural resources. As a result, since 1980 the US cotton industry has been demonstrating continuous improvement against a number of measures, as defined by Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, including reductions in soil erosion, irrigation water applied, labour hours, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. The US cotton industry has also established 10-year goals for continued improvement in key environmental metrics.

Which markets do you see the rise in consumption of cotton? What factors are influencing it?

USDA is currently projecting a record level of world cotton consumption for 2018. We are seeing a growth in US cotton demand from most of our top customers. Vietnam and Bangladesh are big markets for US cotton, and the latter's imports have grown significantly since 2016. The US cotton industry is committed to producing high-quality cotton using the most sustainable and innovative production, harvesting and ginning technologies.

What are the challenges that the global and the US cotton industry faces?

A challenge for the US cotton industry is to maintain our reputation as the most reliable supplier of contamination free cotton.  We are continuing to work on efforts to prevent contamination, including new research and education programmes.

The industry continues to face challenges with moving cotton in a timely manner.  Part of this is due to the current trucking situation, labour shortages, and higher freight rates.  We are also working with USDA to implement industry practices to improve the flow of cotton into the marketing channel.

What kind of repercussions will the US cotton industry bear due to the retaliatory tariffs imposed by China?

For the 2018 crop year, sales are currently at a record level at this point in the marketing year.   China is currently the top export sales customer with 2 million bales for 2018.  We are seeing some cancellations and destination changes for China.  If the tariffs remain in place, we are likely to see more cancellations from China which could put more pressure on cotton prices.

What are the sustainability goals set for 2025?

The Cotton USA Sustainability Task Force, established by the US cotton industry in 2017, recently established national goals for continual improvements in key areas of environmental stewardship, farm productivity and resource efficiency, including land, water, air, input and energy use by 2025.

These goals were set after the Task Force thoroughly reviewed Field to Market's most recent national indicators report data illustrating the industry's past achievements in reducing the industry's environmental footprint.

The six specific goals the Task Force has set to achieve by 2025 are:

1. Reducing by 13 per cent the amount of land needed to produce a pound of cotton fibre
2. Reducing soil loss by 50 per cent, in balance with new soil formation
3. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 39 per cent
4. Reducing energy to produce seed cotton and ginned lint by 15 per cent
5. Increasing water use efficiency (more fiber per gallon) by 18 per cent
6. Increasing soil carbon in fields by 30 per cent

The US cotton industry is the first to establish national quantifiable goals for sustainability. Additionally, its farmers operate under voluminous, stringent and enforceable regulations. 

Membership in the Task Force includes representatives from all the US cotton industry's seven raw cotton segments: cotton producers, ginners, merchants, cooperatives, warehousers, cottonseed processors and textile mills. This holistic approach helps to ensure a coordinated and effective response to environmental issues.

The US cotton industry has made great gains in sustainability over the past 35 years and has reported significant declines in land use, soil loss, improvements in water efficiency, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. To establish and measure these goals, US cotton uses science-based metrics and benchmarks developed by Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture to assess environmental impacts and identify opportunities for improvement. Field to Market works across the entire agricultural supply chain to define, measure and advance the sustainability of US crop production.  

Please tell us about the new platform, 'What's new in cotton'.

Innovation is one reason that Cotton USA has become the cotton the world trusts. Our groundbreaking 'What's new in cotton' initiative showcases innovative technologies, or thinking that will inspire brands with new ideas for cotton and cotton blended fabrics, such as US cotton garments that help you feel better faster after a workout, sweat-resistant tees and denim that keeps you cool on hot days. The objective is to inspire everyone in the textile business to think about the many opportunities in US cotton. (HO)
Published on: 11/10/2018

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of

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