A big challenge for cotton in the U.S. is competition for acreage. When cotton prices topped a dollar a pound other crops, especially grain crops, didn’t just fold the tent. In fact grain stocks, primarily soybeans, corn and wheat are at or near all time lows, with no real strong indication that is likely to change anytime soon.

In the Southeast, peanuts — minor crop on the world scene, but big in the area — more than followed suit with prices.

While most growers sold their peanuts for something close to $600 per ton, plenty of peanuts will sell for more than $800 per ton. Economists contend $700 per ton peanuts equates to $1.00 per pound cotton, with average yields for both crops.

Likewise the business side of cotton shares some compelling challenges. Messura used the analogy of the cotton business versus a hypothetical pencil business. “You (farmers in the audience) are all businessmen and women. If you were in the business of selling pencils consider these options.

You have two suppliers of pencils. Supplier one sends you pencils of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Some of the pencils are long, some are short and some are sharpened and some aren’t. Plus on your best day you have 3 percent waste with these pencils and on your worst day 15 percent. And, the price of these pencils is highly volatile.

Supplier two sends you pencils that are uniform size, color, shape and they are all sharpened. There is no waste and the price remains constant for months at a time.

Which supplier would you use,” Messura asked the growers?

In the apparel and non-woven industry cotton is the first supplier and polyester is the second supplier.

“Why do companies like Under Armor come to us and want to know how they can use cotton in their products,” Messura asks? Because it’s natural, it’s traditional, it’s comfortable, it’s fashionable, and most of all it’s marketable, the Cotton Incorporated executive explains.

To remain marketable, cotton has to maintain its market dominance in denim and t-shirts and build its market share in women’s apparel, athletic wear and in non-woven products like baby diapers and wipes, he adds.

New technologies, like Storm Denim and TransDry, continue driving market growth, but growers are intrinsically linked to this growth. Growing better cotton, ginning better cotton and, very importantly, shipping better cotton in a highly efficient ways are critical keys to maintaining and building market share.

rroberson@farmpress.com