Turkey has the world's highest yields of cotton fiber acquired from seeds that are not genetically modified, recent harvests show.
According to German online statistics and market research portal Statista, Turkey ranked seventh in the world for cotton production in 2016, closely followed by Australia. However, thanks to its successful production and cultivation of non-GMO seed, Turkey has become the world's leading country in cotton production in terms of yield.
Non-GMO cotton yield has increased by 10 percent in the last 10 years, from 1,640 to 1,800 kilograms per hectare, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with Turkey seeing top yields.
While GMO seeds became popular for their pest and disease resistance, the cotton fiber they produce has been linked to environmental destruction as well as allergies and skin irritation for its wearers.
National Cotton Council President Barış Kocagöz said Turkey's production of non-GMO seeds has strategic importance, as demand increases from countries that do not produce their own.
"The Turkish producer has achieved considerable success by producing high yields of GMO-free cotton in a GMO-cotton-based system," said Kocagöz. "If we can brand GMO-free [cotton] in the textile industry, our success will be doubled."
Deemed "white gold," cotton has long been a cash crop for Turkey's economy, with research on seed production initiated in the early years of the Turkish republic.
In the past 83 years, engineers at the Nazilli Cotton Research Institute have produced 45 registered non-GMO seed varieties using classical breeding methods without gene transfer.
Nazilli Cotton Research Institute deputy director Koray Şimşek told Anadolu Agency that they are starting to see results from years of research and development studies, as yields have skyrocketed in the past decade.
Şimşek also stressed that most of the world's top cotton producers continue to rely heavily on genetically modified seeds.
Nazilli Cotton Research Institute, in Turkey's western Aydin province, is one of the several agricultural research centers in Aydin, Adana, Diyarbakir and Şanlıurfa provinces that produce most of Turkey's cotton. Engineers at these centers study the cultivation and quality of cotton fiber and seeds to develop disease-resistant crops with high yields.