Understating the Value of Cottonseed?
There's more to a cotton plant than fiber.
September 14, 2009
Will the value of cottonseed exceed the value of fiber one day? Is it a question or a puzzle aimed at confusing the minds? Or is it a reality that can very easily happen? The answer to such a question, if posed a few years ago, would have been invariably a big “No!” But not any longer ― especially after the world experienced the unprecedented rise in the prices of agricultural commodities last year. Who can guarantee that more severe price jumps will not, and cannot, happen again?
The economists with mathematicians’ minds would not be late in starting to make calculations to show when this can become a common reality, supporting their arguments with some not-so-complicated curves ― even with simple linear models.
It is a widely known fact that every part of a cotton plant can be used in one way or another ― a property which easily puts cotton in a unique position. The interesting point that I would like to argue is that in the future, we might find ourselves in a position where cotton fiber itself may become a by-product of its seed cotton!
Some 20 years ago, when visiting a ginning plant in Arizona, I learned to my surprise that the grower would leave cottonseed to the ginner to pay the cost of ginning. Perhaps that is still a practiced habit, not only in the USA but also in some other countries, including Australia, where cottonseed has been used to make cattle feed. In some other countries, including Turkey, cottonseed oil has been widely used as a vegetable oil, either in liquid or in margarine form. In fact, cottonseed oil is a preferred blending component over cheaper vegetable oils
It is common knowledge that cottonseed oil has excellent nutritional value, as well as being extremely low in trans-fats and cholesterol. Unlike other dietary fats, trans-fats are not regarded as essential, and are the enemy of good health. The consumption of trans-fats increases one’s risk of coronary heart disease by raising levels of “bad” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol while lowering the levels of “good” HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. For this reason, health authorities worldwide recommend that consumption of trans-fat be reduced to trace amounts. Modern margarine-production plants incorporate the use of cottonseed oils with little or no trans-fats. Turkish margarine producers have invested considerably in this technology, as a result of which trans-fat free breakfast margarines are being extensively produced. It can be argued that as the food and nutrition aspect becomes a critical factor in our everyday lives, this factor alone will be very important in influencing the food-oriented agricultural commodity prices where cottonseed could fetch a better price than its fiber.
Furthermore, some recent studies have shown that cottonseed oil is not only good for healthier cooking and eating, but can also have a significant use in the medical field. Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center presented some exciting news about a compound ― gossypol ― found in Chinese medicine that is produced from cottonseed oil. This compound may very well help chemotherapy be more effective for patients suffering from cancers of the head and neck.
The following statement could be a good example to envision the extent to which cottonseed oil can grow in its possible use in medical fields: “While more research is in order, it is believed that this cottonseed-oil compound may block certain proteins that create resistance to chemical treatments and may also limit tumor growth. So far, results have been somewhat promising, and, at this stage, gossypol does not show signs of harming healthy tissue. Cottonseed oil and its derivatives may play vital roles in helping people live healthier lives and in curing diseases now and in the future.” If and when we come to that stage, we would no longer need economists forecasting the conditions when the prices of cottonseed will exceed the price of its lint.
Dr. Gazanfer is Chairman of the ICAC Private Sector Advisory Panel