Agriculture Industry: Stronger Cotton Hybrids Could Stabilize Cotton Supply


Introduction:  In April 2018, Zimbabwe’s major cotton producer Quton announced to the world that they had developed a new variety of their cotton seed market analysis hybrid for low resource, high yield farming. The company announced that their cotton hybrid seeds required lesser water and nutrition compared to non hybrids and provided 20-25% higher yield when compared to the non hybrid cotton. The company, along with the cotton research institute of Zimbabwe, has been researching advancements in cotton and aiming to provide a genetically and agriculturally superior strand of cotton which could help with cotton demand in Zimbabwe and more importantly, work towards being a major source of revenue for the country via exporting if planted on a large scale.

The Plant:  Natural cotton has a large scope but also has a need for ideal conditions for the growth of high quality cotton. Cotton is grown between latitudes of 37° north and 30° south in temperate, subtropical and tropical regions and in every continent. Ideal conditions for the cotton plant are: Long vegetation periods (175 to 225 days) without frost, Constant temperatures between 18 and 30°, Ample sunshine and fairly dry conditions, A minimum of 500 mm of water between germination and boll formation and Deep, well-drained soils with a good nutrient content. Although these conditions are available in specific locations, they are usually an impediment towards the easy and large scale growth of cotton.

The Market Spiral: The global seed market has had a major down period over the last few years with global cotton production declining and with export rates falling drastically as well leading to it having a projected CAGR of 2% for the period 2018-2023. Although there is immense effort, it is expected that production will not keep pace with demand. In the case of Zimbabwe, production has halved from its peak period of 400,000 tons to 200,000. Although 98% of the cotton produced in Zimbabwe is exported and that too, in its raw form, there still is no major contribution from cotton in Zimbabwe. The major market nation is China having 29% of the world’s cotton production followed by Pakistan, Brazil and Uzbekistan when it comes to exports. The main reason for the low level of exports from high producers like India is the majority of the cotton produced is used for domestic consumption. Global exports in 2016 amounted to USD 52.77 Billion which was 6.4% lesser than that of 2015. Although cotton is a major cash crop in the US, the major production happens in the Asia Pacific region. The main issue is the heavy amount of labor required and the high level of vulnerability to pest attacks coupled with the growth conditions and major demand for domestic consumption making cotton a difficult source of revenue for any economy.

Hybrid Application and Advantages: The new varieties of the hybrid cotton have been introduced with faster speed reducing the period between introductions of strains. The research undertaken by the cotton institute has led to the capacity to develop a new strain every 6-7 years rather than every 15 years. The company recently launched 3 hybrids (C567, C571 and C608). Broadly, they have large bolls, high protein content and good quality fiber compared to many varieties of hybrid cotton as well as natural cotton. Although there is a need for good agronomic practices, there is a major payoff using the hybrids in terms of yield has the C567 and C571 can yield about 5,500Kg per hectare while the C608, which is a drought resistant variety yields close to 4000Kg per hectare. Quton breeders expect the plant to have huge potential estimating that the hybrids have a potential for 60 Bolls per plant.

The Opportunity: The growth of the quality and reduction in difficulty of production in cotton farming has raised the potential contribution cotton can have on the economy of major producers. Over 180,000 farmers in Zimbabwe alone rely on cotton for their livelihood but falling global cotton lint prices, rising cost of production and hence, low returns have continued to subdue cotton production in Zimbabwe and most other African countries. Although the reform is barely been introduced and has been focused on a solution mainly for Africa, the application of the cotton hybrid is for many developing countries which do not always have the environment required to easily grow cotton and more importantly for countries like India and China which rely on cotton heavily for domestic consumption. Mainstream adoption of using these genetically superior strands of hybrid cotton could lead to the much needed restoration of the Global cotton market.

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Ankur Gupta, Head Marketing & Communications