You can grow cotton in places where land and labor are cheap. But most of the cotton in the Planet Money T-shirts was grown in the U.S. In fact, the U.S. exports more cotton than any country in the world. Here are three reasons why.

1. Effiency in cotton
There is just so much cotton. Some of the numer A cotton farmer shared some of the numbers behind this operation. The U.S. has perfected cotton by treating it as a high-tech product.

Genetically modified crops are controversial, but not among U.S. cotton farmers: Roughly 90 percent of U.S. cotton comes from genetically modified seeds that were designed in labs to produce more cotton and resist pests. And they use giant robots. Each picker costs about $600,000.

Both the seeds and the pickers get more productive every year as the technology improves. One driver can pick 100 acres of cotton a day — and he barely needs to touch the steering wheel.

Numbers on cotton production

2. Report Cards and no surprises
The cotton that comes from the US just has the best report card. Cotton buyers all around the world can get a report card that tells them everything they need to know about every bale of U.S. cotton. The cotton for T-shirts is rated based on COLOR, FINENESS, LENGTH and STRENGTH.

Also the spinners have a special recipe for their yarn, and they need exactly the right cotton — exactly the right color, exactly the right length, exactly the right fineness. No surprises.

3. Subsidies
Cotton farmers benefit from a bunch of government subsidy programs. Just like other countries by the way. This is done in several ways.

  1. Crop Insurance
    The government subsidizes several kinds of insurance available to cotton farmers. One popular option is revenue insurance, which pays farmers if they make less money than they expect.
  2. Payments When Prices Fall
    Through the “counter-cyclical program,” the federal government pays cotton farmers when the average price of cotton falls below a certain level.
  3. Direct Payments
    Cotton farmers get cash payments from the government, even if cotton prices are going through the roof. Some farmers who used to grow cotton but don’t grow it anymore also get payments through this program.

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