When ginner Robert Royal saw Hollandale, Miss., farmer Van Johnson’s cotton running through the gin stand at Midnight Gin, he knew he was in the presence of something special. In fact, the color of the cotton was so bright, “I almost needed sunglasses,” Royal said.

Royal, general manager at Midnight Gin in Midnight, Miss., thought the cotton would end up with a color grade of at least a 21, however, one bale graded out at 11. What made this bale even more extraordinary was its staple length of 38 and 2-leaf grade. The bale also maxed out the premium on strength and got 10 points for uniformity.

Was it a perfect bale?

Royal says achieving perfection in cotton classing is “probably unobtainable, at least in the Mid-South anyway.” A perfect bale in Royal’s view would be an 11-1-38 with a strength of 33 or greater, 86 percent or better uniformity and a micronaire of 3.7 – 4.2. Under the current CCC loan chart, that would produce a maximum premium of 650 points.

“My guess is that a bale of cotton fitting that description is about as rare as a Powerball winner,” Royal said.

But Johnson’s bale of cotton was uncommon as well, achieving premiums of 615 points. No other bale of cotton in the Dumas Classing Office territory met that description. It may not boast the ultimate in measurement, but it sure was far ahead of whatever was in second place.

According to the Agricultural Marketing Service’s most recent report, less than 1 percent of 650,000 bales classed so far this fall at the Dumas facility had an 11/21 color grade. The report does not differentiate between 11s and 21s. Only 5.2 percent achieved premium micronaire, as Johnson’s bale did, and fewer than 8 percent achieved a strength rating approaching Johnson’s bale. Thirty-eight percent of the bales classed fit into the premium slot that Johnson’s bale did for uniformity, while 24 percent had a strength equaling or exceeding it.

Royal has seen some quality cotton in his 12 years as a ginner, but an 11-2-38 was a first. “Just last year, I ginned some 41 staple with strength way over 33. While those two aspects are stunning, that particular cotton failed in other areas and actually only had a loan value around 52 cents. I’ve also seen better uniformity. However, I’ve never seen so many good things all come together in one bale.  Plus, Van’s cotton was almost certainly the first good middling I’ve ever ginned.”

According to Royal, the “perfect” bale was the result of several factors related to cotton variety, the production season and ginning practices.

The variety in Johnson’s 11-2-38 bale was Deltapine’s DP 1321 B2RF. “You can’t expect a beagle to point quail, he’s not bred for that,” Royal said. “Likewise, you can’t expect just any cultivar to produce quality fiber.”

Johnson, a seed producer for Deltapine, says the best bale would not have happened without a near-perfect season either. Johnson, along with other producers in the south Delta benefited from timely rains and an absence of 100-degree days and 80-degree nights. After the bolls opened on Johnson’s crop, there wasn’t much rain to deteriorate the cotton or complicate a timely harvest.

The field which produced the high-quality cotton was treated with a blanket dose of 100 pounds of potash, along with 100 pounds of anhydrous ammonia. The field was coming out of corn.

 “The cotton just jumped out of the ground,” Johnson said. “It had vigor you can’t imagine. It had huge leaves, none of those little mouse ears. Even with the adversity of some cold nights, it never let up. It literally set every boll on every position. I’ve never seen cotton do that. A lot of times, when you have adversity during the season, you lose those fruiting sites on the bottom, but it didn’t. It was a real showy variety. It was the whitest cotton I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Johnson said a light insect year that started late, as well as frequent rains which minimized irrigation needs, contributed to reduced costs for Johnson, an added bonus.

At the end of the season came the tricky part, defoliation, which sometimes requires a “witch’s brew” of chemical products. But Johnson kept his rates tight. “I use a gallon to 56 of Dropp, a gallon to 20 of Def, or a gallon to 25 if it’s cooler. On my second shot, six or seven days later, I use a gallon to six of ethephon and gallon to 25 of Def. I want it to look like a snowbank.”

He picked his cotton with a John Deere 4-row and a John Deere 6-row picker. As you’ve probably guessed, the cotton variety not only produced a high quality bale with a loan value of 58.15 cents, but yielded around 1,500 pounds an acre. He averaged 90 cents on his cotton, thanks to good pricing opportunities, premiums on quality and liberal rebates at the gin.

To preserve the quality that the season, the variety and Johnson had worked so hard for, Royal had to achieve the right balance of pre-cleaning, lint cleaning and moisture management, “not too much or too little of either.”

Royal said that most of his gin customers “had a great year, quality wise. All of the cotton picked early had exceptionally good color, some 11s and lots of 21s and 31s. When we had a 3-inch rain, followed by another smaller rain, the good middling party ended. However, we still had a surprising number of 31s even after the rain.”

According to Royal, 44 percent of the bales ginned at Midnight Gin were 31s or better and average leaf was less than 4, both aspects noticeably better than average for the territory.

Johnson’s cotton was pre-contracted through Noble Americas Resource Corp., in Mer Rouge, La. Johnny McAdams, Mid-South cotton manager for Noble, said Johnson’s lot of cotton contained 2,860 bales, and most of it was above average in quality. “While color grade is important, a lot of people are starting to recognize the importance of premium micronaire and staple. Most of Van’s cotton was premium micronaire.

McAdams would like to see the Mid-South regain the quality advantage it held a decade or so ago. The quality of cotton in the region this year is a big step forward, and could reap benefits.

“Our domestic textile industry is doing so much better,” McAdams said. “We’re seeing a small expansion there, and the domestic industry needs premium quality. A lot of our customers in Turkey are also requiring a longer staple length. A 38-staple is almost Pima.”

The near perfect bale was purchased by Monsanto. Two locations are being considered for displaying the bale, Monsanto’s Learning Center in Scott, Miss. and the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson, Miss. No doubt, its future’s so bright, it may have to wear shades.