NEW ORLEANS – With a little over 18 million bales classed, the staple of the 2004 U.S. cotton crop has climbed to an average of 35.2, according to Lee Gibson, acting chief, grading branch, USDA/AMS Cotton Program. Gibson was a speaker at the 2005 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans.

If the remaining crop does not decline significantly, this would be the highest since the 1996 and 1991 crops, when the average staple was also 35.2. The 18 million bales represents about 80 percent of USDA’s production forecast for 2004.

The San Joaquin Valley recorded the highest average staple for the season at 36.5, followed by the desert Southwest, 35.5, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, 35.2, the Mid-South, 35.1 and the Southeast, 34.8.

Average length uniformity for the U.S. crop increased for the third straight year, to 81.4 percent. The San Joaquin Valley reported the highest length uniformity at 81.7 percent, followed by the Mid-South, 81.7 percent, and the Southeast, 81.2 percent.

While the percentage of cotton at base quality or better dropped a percentage point, going from 55.9 percent in 2003 to 55 percent in 2004, the figure is still much higher than in 2002, when only 34 percent of the crop was a base quality or better.

By region, the San Joaquin Valley recorded the highest percent at base quality or better, 84, followed by the Southeast, 60.2, the desert Southwest, 56.5, the Mid-South, 56.4 and Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, 37.8.

On the other hand, the percentage of the crop in color grades of 41/32 and higher declined by 14 percent from a record-high 96 percent in 2003 to 82 percent in 2004. “The range was roughly 74 percent in the Mid-South to 98 percent in the desert Southwest.”

Average leaf grade for the 2004 U.S. crop was 3.3, compared to 3.1 for the 2003 crop. The lowest average leaf grade was 2.2 in the desert Southwest, while the highest was 3.5 in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. The percent of the crop containing extraneous matter increased slightly vs. 2003. Extraneous matter ranged from a low of 1 percent in the Mid-South and San Joaquin Valley to a high of 26.9 percent in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Average micronaire for the crop dropped for the third straight year, averaging 4.4. By region, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas produced the lowest average mike crop at 4.0, compared to 4.6 for the desert Southwest. The average mike of the Mid-South crop was 4.5.

The average strength of the U.S. cotton crop rose for the fourth straight year to 29.4 grams per tex. That compares to 28.7 for 2003 and 28.5 for 2002. By region, the San Joaquin Valley recorded the highest strength at 32.6, while the Southeast had the lowest at 28.6.

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com