Over the course of the past decade, cotton production in the United States has decreased substantially. Consequently, American distributors and retailers are increasingly dependent on foreign crops and cotton prices stand to fluctuate in accordance with the activity of foreign markets, the policies of foreign governments, and the effects of foreign weather and disasters. Presently, cotton prices have been driven up in large part because of widespread flooding in Asian cotton-growing nations.
Meanwhile, what is left of the cotton industry in America is not faring well as harsh domestic weather, exacerbated by global climate change, has caused some of the crop to fail. Despite 1.5 million more acres of cotton being planted this year than last, the estimate for crop output is one million bales lower than the total for last year. The result is that cotton prices have reached a 150-year high, and clothing prices, having already risen 3.5% over the last year, are expected to increase 20% by the end of the summer.
Against the backdrop of these changes, it may be highly prudent to shift attention to alternative crops for the production of clothing in coming years. Bamboo clothing provides an excellent alternative to cotton clothing, in that high quality bamboo fabric is even softer than cotton, as well as having the additional benefits of being anti-microbial and not holding onto moisture from perspiration. But apart from providing a great material for clothing, bamboo can prove to be a terrific replacement or supplement for what might be an outmoded cotton crop.
Bamboo is both fast-growing and durable. The crop is not easily damaged by flood, and given its properties and growing patterns, bamboo is a multi-purpose agroforestry crop that does not demand excessive financial risk on the part of farmers. Clearly, American farmers are already moving well away from cotton production. Accepting bamboo as an alternative can allow farmers to grow another cash crop in close proximity, while still producing a material that, in addition to a multitude of other uses, will never leave clothing manufacturers short on a supply of domestic materials.
As it stands, cotton is still cheaper than some of its less popular alternatives, but more than anything else this is a function of that difference in popularity. Cotton remains our default choice for clothing manufacturing, but its natural availability and popularity among the consumer will not continue to be matched by popularity among growers, especially if extreme weather continues to reduce the odds of a successful cotton harvest.
With such extreme weather being driven on by climate change, it is also important that our agricultural options in the future take into account the need for greenhouse gas reductions. And in addition to being profitable, multifaceted, and desirable, bamboo stands to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than trees, while being eminently useful as a domestic crop, and much quicker to grow back once cut down.
Amidst the challenges of environmental degradation, economic concerns for American farmers, and pressure from foreign markets the prevalence of cotton appears to be waning. At the same time, bamboo is an emerging market, with U.S. companies beginning to provide domestic supplies of raw bamboo, and viscose from bamboo providing higher quality, more environmentally and economically sustainable alternatives to the too-limited options that American consumers have been used to for so long.
For more on the benefits of bamboo, visit Green Earth News section on Bamboo & The Environment.