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World organic cotton output declines

World organic cotton production has declined 21 per cent since last year. This means brands seeking to use organic cotton in their ranges over the next few years are likely to face a supply shortage. H&M and C&A in particular have made commitments to use 100 per cent organic cotton by 2020.

Overall production of natural fibers fell 3 per cent in 2013, with conventional cotton production declining 4.1 per cent compared to the year before. This is due to a number of issues, including competition from other crops, greater use of polyester following a spike in international cotton prices in 2010-11, and a government stockpiling program in China (since discontinued), which removed much of the excess cotton from the world market and also contributed to high prices.

But there are specific challenges facing the organic cotton sector, including a scarcity of good quality non-GMO (genetically modified organism) seed, and the threat of GMO contamination and the resulting loss of product integrity. Also there is also a lack of business security for farmers who switch to organic agriculture. Converting to organic farming requires specialist knowledge and can take up to three years to be verified, during which time yields may dip as soils recover their fertility.