Memphis cotton merchant William B. Dunavant apologized in advance for speaking so much about FiberMax cotton varieties in a presentation on quality at the recent Engineered Fiber Selection Conference in Greenville, S.C.
But the merchant stressed that it's hard to ignore the fact that the brand is commanding a premium of several cents a pound over other brands. In fact, to offshore textile mills, the brand is considered more of a standard than the actual HVI fiber characteristics that define it.
“What has truly caught my attention as a cotton merchant is the demand we are receiving offshore today for a 31-3, 36 (color, leaf, staple), 21-3, 36, or a 21-2, 36; average strength, 30, minimum, 28; mike, 3.4 to 4.7; uniformity, minimum 80, average 81. And when the inquiries come in, they say FiberMax, Eastern, Memphis, New Orleans, Texas (EMOT).”
That's a big change from what domestic textile mills have traditionally required, Dunavant noted — 41-4, 34-36, average micronaire 4.4 or 4.5; uniformity, minimum 80 percent, average 81 percent; strength, minimum 27, average 27 or 28.
One reason for the requests for higher quality is that foreign mills simply aren't as efficient as our domestic mills at spinning lower quality cotton. The other reason is they've become the U.S. cotton producers' biggest customer in recent years.
FiberMax also has somewhat of an advantage because of concentrated growth areas in south Texas and west Texas, according to Dunavant, which makes it easy to put together large shipments. Approximately 80 percent of this year's crop in south Texas and about 30 percent of west Texas cotton are planted to FiberMax cotton varieties.
Apparently, the Texas weather is often very friendly to trash and color, too, noted Dunavant. “Currently only south Texas and west Texas (excluding the Far West) produce a volume of 21 color and 31 color,” the merchant said.
“Typically in the Mid-South, we make a lot of 31-3s, but we don't see a lot of 21s and we don't see a lot of 2-leaf. It must be the humidity and the climatic conditions that create this situation.”
Dunavant added that while foreign mills have become enamored with FiberMax brands, “they are being a little naive because there are qualities from Delta and Pine Land and Stoneville that are certainly acceptable, maybe not in 21s, but in 31s.”
In addition, “Delta and Pine Land and Stoneville are making progress. They will produce seeds in the next two to three years that I'm sure will be fully competitive with FiberMax. We are told that D&PL has a variety on the board that is going to strongly compete with FiberMax. It's going to be two years before we see any volume of that cotton in the Mid-South and Southeast.”
Meanwhile, Dunavant can understand why the FiberMax brand is so ingrained in the minds of foreign textile manufacturers and why they're willing to pay a premium for it. “In my experience over the past five years, no matter where it's been planted, the fiber characteristics of FiberMax have been better, excluding the West, than the fiber characteristics of D&PL and Stoneville, particularly in the longer staple, higher uniformity, better grades of cotton. And that's why our inquiries say FiberMax.
“Today, our company wants 925 points for a 21-2, 36 SJV, 625 points on for a strict middling, 36 or 21-2, 36, Arizona, and we want 625 for a FiberMax 21-2, 36. We won't offer a 21-2 out of the Mid-South and Southeast, but we will offer a 31-3, 36 at 350 points.”
The annual demand for quality cotton is hard to pin down, added Dunavant. For example, “China had a total disaster in quality and yield last year. So they focused on buying the best quality outside of China in west Africa, Uzbekistan, California, Australia, Arizona and FiberMax.
“Demand is going to continue to change over the next few years, but for our company the high-grade, high-quality cottons produced in the United States — California, Arizona, west Texas, south Texas and FiberMax — are really going to the head of the list.”