Reality Check Needed for the Cotton Industry, Townsend Says

Terry Townsend addresses the audience at the 2013 Cotton International Global Summit

After spending so many years as one of the most recognizable leaders in the cotton industry, it’s obvious that International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) Executive Director Terry Townsend is a huge advocate for the natural fiber and wants to see the industry succeed long into the future. But just as it is for a parent with a wayward child, sometimes “tough love” is the best option.

Townsend clearly feels that way, based on the keynote presentation he delivered at the 2013 Cotton International Global Summit in Singapore on March 20, which could only be described as a reality check for the industry. Among the more sobering points he made were:

  • In recent years, all of the growth in cotton production comes from higher yields, not increased plantings.
  • Yields might not be rising … but input costs are.
  • Cotton’s share of the global fiber market has fallen from 50% a few decades ago to about 31% today, and ICAC predicts that number will continue to shrink.
  • Cotton prices are in decline, relative to competing crops.
  • Spun yarns of all kinds – both cotton and synthetic – are losing share to filament yarns.

But most discouraging of all, Townsend said, is the lack of collaboration and leadership among industry stakeholders. “Competitiveness can be affected by industry behavior,” he said. “It isn’t something that just happens, like the weather. The future of cotton will be determined by the decisions we make as an industry.

“There are intervention strategies we can implement: increased investments in research, demands for infrastructure development, industry training to improve workforce productivity, and cooperative purchasing of inputs and marketing. The most dangerous thing we can do is take a fatalistic attitude and simply accept cotton’s decreasing competitiveness.”

In years past, much of the industry’s leadership came from the United States, especially through the demand creation efforts of organizations such as Cotton Incorporated and the National Cotton Council. But in coming years, Townsend believes new leaders must step up – especially among growers and cotton professionals in developing markets such as India and Pakistan.

For much more on Townsend’s compelling message to industry leaders, be sure to read the full story on “The Cotton Industry’s Reality Check,” which will be a core element of the upcoming Q2 issue of Cotton International magazine. Watch for it in your inboxes next month!

Leave a Reply