A new Canadian study has found that cotton production in Canada is on track to drop from about 5 per cent of the nation’s total production in the 2020s to 2.3 per cent in 2023, and that it’s more difficult to make a living off the cotton trade.
The findings come after an analysis by the Canada-China Cotton Trade Advisory Group (CCTAG), which was commissioned by the Canadian Cotton Association (CCA), which argues the industry is worth billions of dollars a year to the country.
“If we were to make our own cotton, we’d be paying our own labor, we wouldn’t be paying a huge price for imported cotton,” says Catherine Caulfield, a co-author of the report, published Wednesday in the journal Canadian Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Science.
“And we would be making money on our own.
So why are people such a pain in the ass for the cotton farmers?”
Caulfields co-authored the report with two other co-authors from the University of Toronto, and the University’s Agricultural Research Institute.
“The problem is, we don’t have the technology or the skills to make cotton into anything useful,” says Caulfords co-leader and executive director of the CCTAG, Mark McLean.
“It’s a question of demand and supply.”
The report found that the industry has seen an average of 12 per cent drop in productivity over the past five years.
“That’s a huge drop, and it’s not going to be fixed,” says McLean, adding that a major challenge in the cotton sector is making enough money to support the people who work in the field and in the process of growing the cotton.
“There’s no question that there’s a big demand for our product,” he said.
“But it’s also a question about the ability to keep up with that demand.”
The CCCA says that in 2021, the number of people in Canada working in the industry could be down to just six per cent, with only one in 10 farmers producing enough cotton to meet demand.
While the report makes no recommendations on how to increase the supply of cotton, the CCA says the industry needs to be able to offer its farmers a better deal, so that they can survive.
“I think that if we were really focused on supply, and if we had better technologies to work with, and we could actually do something with the production that we’re already doing,” says CCA president and CEO, John D. Latham.
“Then we could have a lot more cotton coming to market and we’d have a good market for it.”
The CCTag report also calls on Canada to “step up its focus on the protection of the Canadian cotton industry” and to develop a strategy to ensure that all farmers can produce cotton at competitive prices.
“We’re seeing some of these problems,” says Latham, “and it’s time for us to look at how we can make things more resilient and better managed.”