Despite hurricanes and excessive rainfall which affected cotton production from Texas to the Southeast last year, the quality of the 2008 U.S. cotton crop improved over the previous year, according to a report presented at the 2009 Beltwide Cotton Conferences, in San Antonio.

The compilation of classing data, presented by Robbie Seals, chief, grading branch, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service/Cotton Program, showed improved ratings for average strength, staple and color grade, but less desirable ratings for leaf and extraneous matter.

Through Jan. 1, 11.4 million bales of cotton had been classed by USDA, compared to 17.9 million this time last year. Seals estimates that 12.7 million bales will eventually be classed for 2008, compared to 18.7 million for 2007 and 21 million for 2006. Most of the remaining cotton to be classed is in the Lubbock classing office.

Pima classings were at 365,000 bales. “We will probably end up with somewhere around 430,000 bales of Pima classed for 2008,” Seals said.

The Cotton Belt recorded high percentages of the crop with color grades 41/32 or higher. At 94 percent, this was significantly higher than the 86 percent reported in 2007. The percentage ranged from a high of 99.7 percent in the San Joaquin Valley to a low of 92.5 percent in the Southeast. The Mid-South recorded 94.6 percent of its cotton at a color grade of 41/32 or higher.

The downside was the average leaf grade, which increased from an average of 3.2 in 2007 to 3.5 in 2008, which according to Seals, is one of the highest in recent years.

The Mid-South recorded the highest leaf grade averages, 3.9, equal to last year. Leaf grade was also higher in the San Joaquin Valley, 2.4 compared to 2.3 in 2007; and Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, 3.2 compared to 2.8 in 2007. Only the Desert Southwest recorded a lower leaf grade than the prior year, dropping from 2.5 to 2.4. The Southeast recorded a 3.6 leaf grade, the same as last year.

Extraneous matter also increased significantly in 2008, going from 4.0 in 2007 to 15.7 in 2008, the highest level since 2004. Seals says the change was due to increases in bark in west Texas, where 41.7 percent of the crop contained extraneous matter, compared to less than 1 percent for all other regions of the United States. Seals expects the extraneous matter numbers for 2008 to pass the previous high set in 2004, “because in recent weeks, the percentage of cotton with bark has been around 70 percent in Lubbock and Lamesa.”

Micronaire has been unchanged for the last five years, at around 4.3, according to Seals. In 2008, average mike dropped in west Texas, but was offset by increases in the Mid-South. “We did have quite a bit of high mike cotton in the Southeast and Mid-South.”

By region, average mike was 4.6 in the Mid-South and Southeast; 4.5 in the Desert Southwest; 4.2 in the San Joaquin Valley; and 3.9 in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Average length and strength for U.S. cotton continues to improve in the Cotton Belt — due mostly to more cotton being produced in Texas, according to Seals. “Since the late 1980s, there's been a falloff in cotton production in the West to where today it represents only 5 percent of the total production in the United States. That's where we had a lot of our long staple and high strength cotton.

“In more recent years, Texas is producing a much higher percent of the crop, but is also producing a higher quality crop.”

The average strength of the U.S. crop improved to 29.7 in 2008, the highest since USDA went to 100 percent HVI (High Volume Instrument) classing in 1991. In the Mid-South, average strength was 30.2; Southeast, 28.7; Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, 29.6; Desert Southwest, 30.3; and San Joaquin Valley, 33.8. There was also a big increase in average strength for Pima cotton, from 40.6 in 2007, to 41.7 in 2008.

Average staple length for U.S. cotton improved from 35.3 to 35.7, with each region producing longer fiber than the previous year. The Southwest and San Joaquin Valley recorded average staple over 36, with the San Joaquin Valley recording an average of 38. The Mid-South recorded an average length of a little over 35. The U.S. average staple is the highest recorded since USDA went to 100 percent HVI classing.

According to Seals, the percent of bales at base quality dropped from 52.2 percent in 2007 to 50.3 percent in 2008