When Is Cotton Harvested?

Kimberly Vardeman/CC-BY 2.0

Cotton is harvested beginning in July in the southern part of Texas through late November in northern parts of the United States. Machines with turning rods are used to harvest cotton, which is dropped onto conveyor belts after having seeds removed. Rolling machines further process the cotton before it is packed into bales, which weigh about 500 pounds and are stored in trailers.

A bale contains enough cotton to produce more than 313,000 $100 bills or more than 1,200 men’s T-shirts. U.S. textile mills use about 3.6 million bales each year. Cotton accounts for about $27 billion in revenue for U.S. businesses, with total benefit to the U.S. economy estimated near $100 billion annually.

Cotton is planted in early February through late May. It grows in 17 southern U.S. states, stretching from Louisiana and Texas to Virginia. Around the world, China grows the most cotton, followed by India. The United States ranks third in worldwide cotton production.

A serious threat to cotton production is the boll weevil, a type of beetle that eats cotton flowers and buds. It is believed to be native to Central America but entered the United States in the late 1800s and began devastating crops. A program to eradicate boll weevils began in 1978 and allowed cotton production to increase significantly in many areas.