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Japanese Retailers Like U.S. Cotton

By Tommy Horton
Editor
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When an overseas retail representative sees U.S. cotton in the field for the first time, an important message is reinforced. In essence, it becomes a mutually beneficial situation for all parties.

That is precisely what happened last month when a group of Japanese retailers and fiber sourcing companies made a week-long tour of the U.S. Cotton Belt. The group was participating in Cotton Council International’s COTTON USA Fiber Education Tour.

It gave these important customers of U.S. cotton a chance to gain a better understanding of how cotton is produced, processed and marketed. More importantly, it gave U.S. cotton industry leaders an excellent opportunity to showcase precision ag practices and fiber quality initiatives that are unique in today’s global market.

The group began its week-long tour with a visit to Cotton Incorporated’s world headquarters in Cary, N.C. The trip moved on to Memphis where briefings were conducted at the USDA Classing Office and National Cotton Council.

The Japanese then traveled to California for a stop in Bakersfield for meetings with industry leaders as well as a farm and gin tour. This part of the trip gave the group a chance to view Pima and upland cotton fields.

Viewing Cotton In The Field

During the stop in Memphis, several local cotton industry leaders entertained the Japanese at a private lunch at The Butcher Shop restaurant near Agricenter International.

This gave the Japanese representatives a chance to learn more about U.S. cotton in an informal setting.

Rob Miller, CCI’s Northeast and Southeast Asia director, accompanied the group on its trip across the Belt. He says that bringing the Japanese retailers to the United States has proven extremely effective in the last few years.

“These representatives make all of the decisions on which yarn and fabric to buy,” he says. “We’re talking about a group that represents roughly 10 percent of the Japanese retail market. It gives them a chance see U.S. cotton in the field plus see how sophisticated the entire U.S. cotton industry really is.”

Even though this Japanese group has had experience in traveling to China for meetings with that country’s cotton officials, last month’s trip to the United States offered some productive and educational experiences.

For instance, according to Miller, it is was important that the group observe how U.S. cotton was classed using an HVI system. The visitors also received updates on how precision agriculture techniques are implemented in U.S. cotton production.

Important Export Market

How important is Japan as a customer of U.S. cotton? And does this kind of trip have a serious impact on future purchasing decisions by these Japanese retail and sourcing company representatives?

Japanese retailer AEON more than quadrupled the amount of its COTTON USA labeling of premium apparel in 2011. The company’s U.S. cotton consumption increased to 2,353 bales in calendar year 2011, valued at $1.8 million. That compares to 547 bales in 2010.

After AEON joined the COTTON USA Fiber Education Tour, it shifted the cotton content of its innerwear to 100 percent U.S. cotton, increasing its COTTON USA labeled units to 3.1 million in calendar year 2011 from 650,000 for calendar year 2010.

“This is the fourth year for this kind of tour, and we’re really seeing tremendous results,” says Miller. “For example, I can now walk into a spinning mill in Vietnam and learn that its customers are demanding 100 percent U.S. cotton. And then I’ll find out later its because somebody went on this tour. We’re really pleased at how this is working out.”

High Praise For Tour

One of the persons who attended the lunch meeting in Memphis with the Japanese was Michael Adams, a cotton trader with Cargill Cotton who previously worked at Staplcotn Cooperative in Greenwood, Miss.

He had high praise for the effectiveness of the Japanese tour’s visit.

“CCI and Cotton Incorporated have worked very closely with the Japanese cotton textile industry to promote U.S. cotton for many years, and they’ve done an excellent job,” says Adams.

Independent studies reveal that for every dollar spent by USDA cooperators, including CCI, U.S. exports increase $35, a 35-to-1 return on investment. For the cotton industry, this represents more than a billion dollars in export value or an additional 7,000 jobs to the U.S. economy.

Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or thorton@onegrower.com.

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