Cotton quality improves with diverse pollinator populations

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Cotton is the world’s most widely grown and economically important nonfood crop. In the United States alone, farmers grow cotton on 12 million to 14.5 million acres, and produce a yearly harvest worth nearly US$25 billion.

Before cotton’s fluffy bolls emerge, the plant produces large white flowers, similar to those of the hibiscus. These flowers attract a wide range of insects, including bees, flies, butterflies and beetles, which visit the flowers to collect nectar and pollen as food and act as pollinators, moving pollen between flowers.

Plants make seeds after male-produced pollen grains and female plant ovaries are brought together. Some plants are self-pollinating, but others need pollinators to help the process along. While cotton can produce marketable, fiber-filled fruits without the help of pollinating insects, pollinators significantly increase the weight of cotton bolls. Larger bolls produce greater yields and higher profits for growers.

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