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Seeds and Us

Coffee beans are one of lifes essential seeds. There are many other seeds that also provide us with necessary food or resources.

Everything we eat and drink either comes directly or indirectly from plants. Without plants, we risk the security of our food and our own survival. The world wouldn’t be the same without watermelons! But did you know that we also wear plants?  

That’s right, most common apparel fibres are grown from seeding plants such as cotton, coconut, hemp, nettle and linen. Because we rely on plants so much, the diseases and pests that damage our food and fibre crops can be devastating for the farmers that grow and sell them to us.  

Watch the video below to learn how cotton is grown in Australia. Before you do, get to know some of the special words cotton farmers use. Do you know the meaning of the following? 

  • Rotobuck 
  • Syphon 
  • Bolls 

Which plant fibres are you wearing today? There’s a good chance you’re wearing cotton. Do a quick check of the labels inside your clothes.  

View the slideshow below to “get to know” cotton in more detail.

Cotton is the most common, non-edible crop in the world and makes the most money for its sale due to being the most popular fibre to make clothing with. The cotton industry provides jobs for more than 250 million people worldwide, especially in developing countries. Approximately half of all textiles (e.g. clothes, towels, sheets) are made of cotton, yet some say the industry is unsustainable and we may not be wearing cotton in future. Why?  

Since humans began growing cotton on a large scale, farmers have had to battle challenges including insects ranging from the deadly bollworm, plant and stink bugs, aphids, thrips and spider mites to larger threats like drought. You saw in the video how the farmers were spraying their cotton crops to protect it from ‘pests’. In fact, insect pest management (using poisons called pesticide) is the highest cost for growing cotton. Read more about the diseases that cotton has to contend with at the Australian Farm Biosecurity website. But insects are not the only problem with cotton... 

What is the biggest problem with growing cotton? 

Cotton's biggest impact on the earth is from pesticides, followed by the huge amount of water it needs whilst growing. Also, the land farmed for cotton can no longer be used by native animals, insects and plants, and they need to find somewhere else to live. You saw in the video how important water is for growing cotton. Did you know that to produce one cotton t-shirt, around 20,000 litres of water must be used to keep the cotton plant alive?  

So, what is the answer to these problems with cotton? View the videos below to learn about how we can enjoy organically-grown cotton.

Cotton is important, but how about saving the world’s most delicious fruits? 

A world without watermelons and bananas is unimaginable! Back in the 1950s, Australia’s banana supply was in danger when a nasty fungus called the ‘Panama disease’ was identified as the cause of widespread banana tree deaths. This spelled big trouble for the industry as well as the trees themselves - they were being attacked at the root level and through their vascular system, which is like the ‘plumbing system’ of plants. The Panama fungus was resistant to fungicide and could not be controlled with chemicals. So, what could banana farmers do? 

This ruthless disease nearly wiped out entire plantations of the Gros Michel banana in Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Colombia and Ecuador so scientists acted quickly to research different banana varieties that Australians could grow. Luckily, they discovered that the Cavendish variety of banana is immune to the deadly fungus, leading farmers to replant their farms with the Cavendish banana. This made them the most popular variety of banana grown in Australia today.  

Activities - Seeds and Us

1. Clothing tally

Conduct a survey of your school uniforms to find out what your clothes are made of – make a tally of clothes that are cotton, synthetics or other fibres. 

  • Socks 
  • T-shirt 
  • Shorts 
  • Jumper 
  • Jacket 
  • Hat 

2. Plant bug research

Cotton plants can be destroyed by even the smallest of bugs. But what do they look like and how do they harm the cotton plant?

Conduct research on the following: 

  • Deadly bollworm 
  • Stink bugs 
  • Aphids 
  • Thrips 
  • Spider mites 

3. What is a cash crop?

What does it mean if something is a ‘cash crop’? Use Think, Pair, Square and Share to discuss what this term means before finding out with a Google search. 

4. Making comparisons

Now that you have seen the modern technologies used in food and fibre production in Australian agriculture, let’s compare how they are similar and different. Plus, let’s compare how organic growing compares to these two. This way, we will better understand what the word organic means. Click here to use our Venn diagram for this task.  

5. Animal fibres

Cotton is the world’s most common fibre and now you know all about how its grown from seeds. But do you know which animals provide us with fibres and how these fibres are harvest? Use the list of animal fibres below to conduct your own research. 

  • Wool 
  • Silk 
  • Cashmere 
  • Angora 
  • Mohair 
  • Leather (not exactly a fibre, but a good one to know about)