Discover the 10 U.S. States That Grow the Most Cotton

Written by Patrick MacFarland
Published: December 10, 2023
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The United States has a history when it comes to cotton. With the invention of the cotton gin in the late 1700s, the amount of cotton produced by the Southern States grew substantially. Ever since then the largest cotton-producing states have been located in the South. Today, you can see that the southern States from California to South Carolina all grow cotton. The term that economists use to call these states is the Cotton Belt. Approximately 99% of the cotton that is grown in the United States is of the variety called Upland. The rest, which amounts to around 1% is the American Pima variety.

Let’s take a look at the 10 U.S. states that grow the most cotton. We will explore more in-depth about their cotton production and other fun facts.

10. California

Cotton bales arranged in a row next to a harvested field, ready for pick up; Central California, United States

California is the only state on this list of cotton-producing states located in the Southwestern region of the country.

©Sundry Photography/iStock via Getty Images

Cotton has been growing in the state for many many decades. The cotton industry’s height was around the 1950s and 1960s when growers were able to farm about 1 million acres of cotton every single year. That came to about 1 billion dollars straight into California’s coffers.

Unfortunately, the amount of cotton that California has grown in the past 50 years has decreased substantially. The areas where cotton is grown in California are mainly in the San Joaquin Valley but there are also areas in the Palos Verdes Valley and the Sacramento Valley.

9. South Carolina

South Carolina cotton fields at sunrise

South Carolina produces about 530,000 bales of cotton per year.

©Tricia Jeter/iStock via Getty Images

With the invention of the cotton gin, South Carolina’s production of cotton increased drastically. In about 1860, cotton production in the state was around 280,000 bales. The Civil War turned out to be a negative consequence in cotton production as it went down in the state throughout the decade. By the turn of the century, however, production had rebounded and it reached a whopping 1.6 million bales per year. Today, the areas in South Carolina that produce cotton the most are in the inner coastal plain, as well as the Piedmont area.

8. Tennessee

Cotton Field

Located in the Southeastern United States, Tennessee produces around 710,000 bales of cotton every year.

©andrearenata/iStock via Getty Images

Tennessee was not among the original cotton-producing states during the late 1700s and early 1800s. However, by 1850, Tennessee had increased its cotton production and was among the top five states that grew cotton in the nation. In fact, the city of Memphis actually boasted of being the biggest Inland cotton producer in the world. Like in South Carolina, the Civil War had a consequential impact on cotton cultivation in Tennessee and the rest of the Southern States. Today, Tennessee is not as big in cotton production as it used to be but is still among the top producers in the nation.

7. Missouri

Mature Cotton

The state of Missouri produces approximately 830,000 bales of cotton per year.

©Christopher Harris/iStock via Getty Images

When it comes to Missouri’s cotton production, the main areas where the crop grows are in the southeastern regions of the state. That area is known as Bootheel by the locals. Usually cotton grows on a rotation basis with corn and soybeans. The type of cotton that is grown in Missouri is the Upland variety, but the state also grows cottonseed (although in much smaller quantities). In terms of exports, Missouri sends its cotton to various countries all over the world including Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Guatemala, and Vietnam.

6. Alabama

Cotton crops

Located in the Deep South, Alabama has a history of producing cotton.

©Joobhead/iStock via Getty Images

Alabama has historically been one of the states with large cotton farms throughout. Alabama was one of the leaders in cotton production by 1820. Alabama grew so much cotton and in the years after that the state was known as the “Cotton Kingdom.” Plantation owners all over Alabama made a lot of money but on the backs of slaves.

The Civil War destroyed Alabama’s cotton economy. Alabamian farmers also had to deal with various setbacks including the invasion of the boll weevil, but soon created insecticides that eradicated the insect. Today, cotton production has made a comeback in Alabama.

5. North Carolina

In the hands of the cotton grower harvested cotton

The state of North Carolina ranks in the top five largest-producing states that grow cotton.

©batuhan toker/iStock via Getty Images

Because of the required intensive cotton growing, the crop wasn’t monetarily successful in the southern states. After the invention of the cotton gin, however, cotton skyrocketed in production. By 1840, cotton was a major cash crop in the state. Like all Southern States, cotton was the major crop until the Civil War. The Civil War decimated North Carolina’s cotton economy. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that cotton started making a comeback in North Carolina. Today, cotton is huge in the state, as it ranks in the top five in production.

4. Mississippi

Cotton field at sunrise

The state of Mississippi produces 1.1 million bales of cotton every year.

©Jacqueline Nix/iStock via Getty Images

Mississippi produces both cotton and cottonseed on its farms. With a whopping 1.1 million bales of cotton that they produced in 2022, it resulted in a production value of more than $600 million.  When it comes to cotton planting, Mississippi usually starts planting in the springtime and the harvest time is in autumn. Mississippi has been a leader in Cotton production since the beginning of the 1800s with, of course, a dip in the cotton economy during and the decades after the Civil War.

3. Arkansas

Rustic Cotton Farm

Producing 1.5 million bales of cotton per year, Arkansas is one of the largest producers of cotton in the US.

©&#169 Thomas McCall/iStock via Getty Images

When people visited Arkansas in the early 1800s, they saw that the weather was perfect for cotton growing. The industry grew and remained strong throughout the first half of the 19th century. After the Civil War, the industry took a nosedive but regained its strength by the early 20th century. Today, the cotton industry in Arkansas remains strong, resulting in more than $450 million in revenue. The regions where cotton is grown in Arkansas are around the Delta region of the state, as well as the northeastern part.

2. Georgia

Cotton Field

Coming in second place, Georgia is the second-largest producer of cotton in the United States.

©elan7t50/iStock via Getty Images

Georgia is a state in the South, which means that its weather is perfect for growing cotton. Georgia was the first colony to start growing cotton and produce it commercially. With the advent of the invention of the cotton gin, George’s cotton production skyrocketed.

The state was enjoying the cash crop’s success until the Civil War. The cotton industry was decimated in the state and it took decades to recover. Today, Georgia is the number two producer of cotton and the state heavily relies on the crop, resulting in an economic impact of $3 billion.

1. Texas

Cotton Plant

Texas is the largest producer of cotton in the United States.

©Sabrina Gordon/iStock via Getty Images

Spanish missionaries first grew cotton in Texas in the mid-1740s. By the early 1820s, American settlers had taken over the industry and it resulted in success. Although the Civil War dealt the cotton farmers with a huge economic loss, the industry rebounded and is now at an all-time high.

Today, cotton is grown all throughout the state. In recent years, however, the droughts in Texas have caused concern among people in the industry because of how the future will impact the state’s cotton production. Nevertheless, Texas remains the number one producer of cotton in the country.

Summary of the 10 U.S. States That Grow the Most Cotton

RankStateCotton Production (in bales)
10California434,000
9South Carolina530,000
8Tennessee710,000
7Missouri830,000
6Alabama840,000
5North Carolina1,000,000
4Mississippi1,180,000
3Arkansas1,570,000
2Georgia1,600,000
1Texas3,448,000

The photo featured at the top of this post is © africa924/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Patrick Macfarland is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering travel, geography, and history. Patrick has been writing for more than 10 years. In the past, he has been a teacher and a political candidate. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from SDSU and a Master's Degree in European Union Studies from CIFE. From San Diego, California, Patrick loves to travel and try new recipes to cook.

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