Frontiering the Chinese “West”: a Closer Look

Page 11

Whatever the numbers turn out to be, Xinjiang and other homologous “oasis” crop centers of the West cannot freely reshape their “export” (extra-regionally marketed) reliance on cotton, however, because, like its possible follow-on, sugar beet, it is an easily and safely warehousable commodity, having no (major) stock-degrading assailants, unlike the regionally emblematic grape which must be quickly fermented into wine or see its sugar convert to starch and rot and become valueless. The (only) major risk for inventories once they have survived field blight is that the ever-shifting fashion profile of the (now) mostly young urban clothing shopper might (indeed DOES) change the preferred yarn from short to medium to long staple, in turn shifting the demand unpredictably between one or another seed. In contrast to the situation with maize, where annual re-hybridizing is almost automatic and can in theory be easily (re) shaped at no more than a 1 year lag, cotton seed variety exchange is mainly a laboratory achievement, and much too slow to bear fruit for the in-country cloth mills who must respond to clothing makers’ needs in as close to under-a-year as they can get. With China now a card-carrying member of the WTO, global surpluses of many many varieties are waiting at the dockside to pounce should any such delay arise or escalate. Here too, the situation is reminiscent of the American [though post-WW II] South, where the expulsion of sharecroppers/smallholders was completed once the demand profile became unstable and more at risk from “exotic” yarn imports, most notably Egyptian long-staple.

Figs XX and XXX

Xinjiang Cotton Yields 1980 to 2015 target, Kg/mu

Xinjian cotton yileds 80 to 2015

Xinjiang Cotton Acreage Sown, Million mu, 1979 to 2015 (Target)

XJ cotton acreage mill mu 80 tom  2015

Another facet of this “plateauing” of cotton is no doubt the rising cost (and stake) of pesticide supply and application. Just as in the “Old South”, the too-rapid market-driven opening of new (and marginally inappropriate) meadow or grasslands to cotton invites a new pest breed to invade the new-sown area, where crop seed has not (yet) evolved to confer some or any immunity.

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