U.S. producers increased their plantings of organic cotton by 26 percent in 2009, according to preliminary data collected by the Organic Trade Association in a survey funded by Cotton Incorporated.

Analysis of available data collected by an OTA survey of U.S. organic cotton producers and preliminary data from the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative put planted area at 10,731 acres in 2009, up from an estimated 8,539 acres in 2008.

The 2009 plantings are the highest since 2001, when 11,586 acres of organic cotton were planted by U.S. cotton growers. (U.S. producers planted 9.14 million acres of upland and Pima cotton conventionally in 2009, according to USDA.)

Harvested acreage figures for 2009 are not yet available. However, estimates show that this could be as much as 9,555 acres, up from 7,289 acres harvested in 2008.

Harvested organic cotton area in 2008 yielded 7,026 bales, of which 6,466 bales were upland cotton and 560 bales were Pima cotton. This yield was significantly less than the 14,025 bales of organic cotton harvested from 8,510 acres in 2007. These yield differences reflected the extremely difficult weather conditions, including wind, hail and drought, in 2008 in contrast to excellent growing conditions in 2007.

Other survey findings revealed that the average price per pound farmers received for organic cotton in 2008 decreased from the previous year and ranged from 52 cents to $1.35 for organic upland cotton in 2008, compared to $1 to $1.50 in 2007. Organic Pima cotton prices ranged from $1.05 to $3 in 2007, compared to $1.75 in 2008.

When asked what their greatest barriers are to planting more cotton in 2010, growers cited finding a market for their cotton, finding a market that will pay value-added costs of organic products, production challenges such as weeds and insects, weed control, and labor costs. Growers also cited competition from international organic cotton producers as well as the cost of transition to organic.

To enhance their ability to market organic cotton, survey participants suggested that the National Organic Program continue to allow organic growers to use acid-delinted cotton seed for planting and cited the need for greater enforcement for foreign certifications. Growers also said they needed further promotion geared toward organic products and greater consumer demand.

According to the OTA, organic cotton is grown without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. In addition, federal regulations prohibit the use of genetically engineered seed for organic farming. All cotton sold as organic in the United States must meet strict federal regulations covering how the cotton is grown.