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‘Phenomenal’ yields and quality are bright spots in Mid-South cotton picture

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Mid-South cotton producers had "phenomenal yield numbers" last year, says Tommy Valco, USDA/ARS cotton technology transfer and education coordinator at the Jamie Whitten Delta States Research Center at Stoneville, Miss. Fiber qualities, for the most part, have also seen significant improvement, he says. “With new varieties that have potential for very high yields, we can be optimistic that, even with fewer acres, we can produce the cotton that’s needed to keep our gins in operation.”

Cotton acreage numbers in the Mid-South haven’t exactly been stellar in the past few years, but says Tommy Valco, all is not gloom in the cotton sector.

“A really bright spot,” he said at the annual meeting of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association, held in conjunction with the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show, “is the significant increase in pounds-per-acre productivity over the last eight to 10 years.

“Yield over that period stabilized at around 800 pounds per acre — a really good average compared to the 600 pounds or so we were seeing in the 1980s. But in 2013, we saw a significant increase in yields in the Mid-South.

“Arkansas averaged 1,232 pounds per acre; Louisiana, 1,267 pounds; Mississippi, 1,188 pounds; Tennessee, 878 pounds; and Missouri, 976 pounds. Some growers were averaging four bales-plus per acre.”

“Those are phenomenal yield numbers,” says Valco, USDA/ARS cotton technology transfer and education coordinator at the Jamie Whitten Delta States Research Center at Stoneville, Miss. “With new varieties that have potential for very high yields, we can be optimistic that, even with fewer acres, we can produce the cotton that’s needed to keep our gins in operation.”

More good news, he says, is improved strength and length.

“Today’s cotton is averaging more than 30 grams per tex nationally — a number that 10 or 15 years ago we’d have loved to see. Length is averaging 36 staple. This is tremendous quality cotton we’re producing. We owe a lot of thanks to breeders and seed companies for giving us this kind of quality.”

In the past, Valco says, “Growers pretty much had to choose between yield or quality, and for most producers, the choice was yield. Now, we can have both — and that’s a significant improvement.”

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Other good news: “Our domestic textile industry is beginning to see some resurgence. It’s not major, but it is encouraging that companies are considering building new mills or expanding their operations in the U.S., including some major expansions and new facilities in the southern cotton producing territory. This is quite a change from the past, when so much textile production was moved offshore.

“These are all spinning mills — we’re probably not ever going to see fabric goods produced here again. But we can be very efficient in yarn production, which isn’t that labor-intensive and uses a lot of high tech systems and technology.

“There are also the advantages to the mills in being closer to their fiber supply; shorter shipping times help them with flexibility. And there is the advantage of a technologically-capable work force. Another key consideration is a relatively cheap and reliable supply of energy. These are some of the factors starting to push some of the textile manufacturing back to the U.S.”

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