Cottonseed is a crop that's a major component of the overall cotton harvest. Farming devoted to the growth of the produce spans roughly 10.3 million acres over 17 states within the United States. The consumer food industry, budding biodiesel trade and also animal feed manufacturers rely on components of cottonseed for raw materials.
Cottonseed is one of the two crops that the cotton plant yields. Its other crop is fiber. At a ratio of 162 pounds of cottonseed for each 100 pounds of cotton fiber, it is the main crop.
The largest producer of cottonseed is China, which produces about 36 million bales of cotton in three years---one bale weighs in at roughly 500 pounds. The United States is the third largest cotton grower in the world with an average production of 17.9 million bales from about 18,600 cotton farms in three years. Of these, the state of Texas alone produces 6.2 million bales. Other states that grow the crop are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
There are different types of plants yielding cottonseeds. In addition to the naturally occurring cotton, scientists developed "Bt" cotton. This variety is a product of genetic modification and includes genetic codes from Bacillus thuringiensis. B. thuringiensis is a bacterium that produces naturally occurring insecticides, which transform the growing cotton into a more insect resistant crop. There is a potentially very low health risk associated with the consumption of Bt cottonseed oil. Other genetic modifications also exist and the National Cotton Council reveals that as of 2008, 94.6 percent of cotton crops grew from genetically modified cottonseed.
Planters retain roughly five percent of the cottonseed yield to use for next season's planting. More than 33 percent are processed to become cottonseed oil, hulls and meal. The oil is an integral ingredient in foods, such as margarine or salad oil, and the seeds' hulls and pulp can be turned into livestock feed. Dried and ground cottonseed pulp---you may see it listed as the ingredient "cottonseed meal"---is an environmentally friendly lawn and garden fertilizer.
Cottonseed oil is an integral part of a growing biodiesel industry. In the past, solvent processing replaced mechanical pressing to remove as much oil from the seed kernels as possible. Green entrepreneurs now discover that a return to the old-fashioned mechanical processing results in the desirable vegetable oil for biodiesel and a high fiber and fat meal for the feed industry. In some regions of the South, this change within the industry is increasing the fiscal sustainability of cotton farmers because of being able to offer not one but two highly desirable natural products.