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Cotton Not Just for Football

Dec. 19, 2007

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, (573) 882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – As the University of Missouri football team prepares to take the field for the New Year’s Day Cotton Bowl, MU researchers have spent years in the cotton fields. Researchers at MU’s Delta Center in the southeast corner of the state spend so much time studying the crop they have become known as the “Cotton Crew.”

 When asked why cotton is so important, Director of the Delta Research Center Jake Fisher joked, “Well, do you like to wear clothes?” The Center, established in Portageville, Mo. in 1959, is part of MU’s Agricultural Experiment Station and a research arm of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

 Actually, cotton is serious business in Missouri. In the southeast portion of the state, cotton is second only to soybeans as the most planted and most valuable crop. Last year alone, 496,000 acres of cotton were planted in eight southeast Missouri counties. From 2002 to 2005, the cotton crop had an average value of more than $180 million.

 “We have developed six new cotton varieties at the Delta Center,” Fisher said. “We continue to do ongoing cotton production research.”

 While reporters and fans are busy snapping pictures at the Cotton Bowl, researchers at the Delta Center may be snapping photos of their own cotton bolls. They discovered that digital photography is a new tool that can be used for making crop replant decisions quickly. According to new research, digital photos of cotton crops can be manipulated in the field by changing saturation, brightness and hue. These pictures can give producers an early warning in fewer than five minutes if a crop is diseased, needs to be replanted or can be saved.

 “Plants that appear healthy to the eye can be observed in the photos to have a problem since they will not have a bright red color. Healthy tissue is displayed as bright red in manipulated digital photos,” said Andrea Phillips, senior research specialist at the Delta Center and part of the Cotton Crew. “This can be seen as early as a week before the death of the plant. This is valuable information for cotton producers, consultants, seed companies, extension personnel and chemical companies.”

 According to the National Cotton Council of America, about two thirds of the harvested cotton crop is composed of the seed. The seed is crushed to separate its three products – oil, meal and hulls. Cottonseed oil is a common component of many food items. It is primarily used in cooking oil, shortening and salad dressing. The oil is used extensively in the preparation of snack foods. The meal and hulls are used as feed for livestock, poultry and fish, and as fertilizer.

 U.S. textile mills will spin almost 10 million bales of cotton this year. That is enough to make almost three billion pairs of men’s jeans and eight billion men’s dress shirts. One bale of cotton weighs nearly 500 pounds.

 According to the National Cotton Council, one bale of cotton can make:

• 215 pairs of jeans
• 249 bed sheets
• 409 men’s sport shirts
• 690 terry bath towels
• 765 men’s dress shirts
• 1,217 men’s T-Shirts
• 1,256 pillowcases
• 2,104 boxer shorts
• 2,419 men’s briefs
• 3,085 diapers
• 4,321 mid-calf socks
• 6,436 women’s knit briefs
• 21,960 handkerchiefs
• 313,600 $100 bills

According to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, U.S. paper currency is made of 75
percent cotton and 25 percent linen. In 1997, more than 14 billion pounds of cotton were used to print more than $142 billion.

 The U.S. remains the leading cotton exporter to the world, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) – housed at the University of Missouri – both project an increase in cotton exports between now and 2012. FAPRI forecasts that exports will rise above 10.5 million bales every year between now and 2012.