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California Cotton Farmers Maximize Harvest By Tagging Crops With DNA

Kimberly Vardeman/Flickr

In 2014 the California cotton industry got a wake up call. Somewhere in the supply chain of turning high end cotton into fabric the products were being laced with inferior fiber. And now as FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports consumers can be sure they’re getting what they pay for.


After using plant based DNA sprayed onto raw Pima cotton to track it through the supply chain sheet maker David Greenstein found that Chinese spinners turning it into thread were mixing it with inexpensive varieties. Pima is a highly prized cotton type grown mainly in the Central Valley. Greenstein says three years later his products are actually 100 percent Pima and sold in places like Bed, Bath & Beyond and Costco.


Credit Pimacott

“We’re well on our way and this commitment from Bed, Bath & Beyond has really helped us scale to a point where everything to do with the efficiencies in commercialization of this idea is now at scale," Greenstein.


This is a big win for the 11 local farmers growing Pima because it somewhat guarantees them top dollar for what they grow. Merced farmer Cannon Michael is one of them.


“For California I think it’s going to help with our getting the real value out of the quality that we produce and introducing our customer to a pure product versus what they’ve been getting for many years which is probably a blend even if it says its pure," says Michael. 


The team behind the DNA tagging and tracing technology is now thinking of expanding its use to other types of cotton like upland and organic to make sure products made out of them really are 100 percent pure.

Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.
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