U.S. cotton producers grew a longer, stronger fiber in 2006 and produced the highest percentage in five years at base quality or better, according to USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, Cotton Division.

In addition, length uniformity is up significantly over the previous year, increasing for all regions. But the crop also had a higher average leaf grade of 3.4, compared to 2005.

The quality data was presented at the 2007 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans by Robbie Seals, grading branch chief, USDA/AMS. The data represented about 90 percent of the cotton classed at that time.

The upland quality information is for around 18.4 million bales classed while Pima quality information is for 502,000 bales classed. AMS is expecting to class about 20.8 million bales for the 2006 season, “although many offices are continuing to raise their estimates by a few thousand bales, because the crop seems to have gotten bigger as we went along,” Seals said.

Seals noted that 95 percent of the U.S. crop had a color grade of 41/32 or better in 2006, the best color grade since the 2003 crop, when 96 percent of the crop graded out at 41/32 or better.

There was little change in the color percentage from the previous year across all regions except the Southeast, which improved from just under 90 percent to 95.5 percent. The percentage at 41/32 or better ranged from 93.3 in the Mid-South to 99 percent in the San Joaquin Valley. Regions include the Mid-South; Southeast; Texas (Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas); Desert Southwest; and San Joaquin Valley.

Leaf grade increased from 3.2 percent in 2005 to 3.4 percent in 2006, the highest since 2002. However, 2005 was an exceptional year for the large Texas crop, which had an average leaf content below 3.0, “which had a large impact on the average for the rest of the crop that year.”

Leaf grade ranged from a low of 2.5 in the Desert Southwest to a high of 3.5 in the Mid-South.

Extraneous matter across all regions dropped from 4.5 percent to 4.3 percent, although Seals expects the final figure for 2006 to be higher due to a late surge in cotton with high percentages of extraneous matter for west Texas.

Extraneous matter ranged from a low of 0.2 percent in the San Joaquin Valley to a high of 13.8 in Texas.

Micronaire across all regions increased to 4.4 after two years at 4.3. The biggest reason for the increase is due to a rise in mike in the Texas crop, which increased the average for the rest of the U.S. crop. The Mid-South and Southeast averaged a 4.6 mike, the Desert Southwest, 4.5, the San Joaquin Valley, 4.2, and Texas, 4.0.

Average strength of the U.S. crop increased slightly from last year, from 29.1 to 29.2, reflecting an upward trend. The San Joaquin recorded the highest average strength, 33.9, followed by the Desert Southwest, 29.8, Texas, 29.3, Mid-South, 29, and Southeast, 28.8.

Average staple length of the U.S. crop exceeded 35, (35.2). Average staple length for the Mid-South, 34.9, and Southeast, 34.6, were just below the threshold. Texas recorded an average of 35.8, while the Desert Southwest came in at 36.3.

“We were worried about the crops in the Southeast and Mid-South as harvest started last year because we had a lot of short staple cotton,” Seals said. “We think a lot of it was coming from cotton damaged by the drought. After we began moving into the irrigated crop, we saw longer staple length.”

Seals added that staple length varied significantly within regions in 2006. “In the Mid-South, the Louisiana cotton crop had a 34.2 staple, while the northern part of the region averaged better than a 35.5. The same thing occurred in the Southeast. The Alabama crop recorded a 33.9 staple, while the North Carolina averaged a little over a 35.”

Uniformity, after taking dip in 2005 (80.7), is back to where it had been in previous years at 81.2, noted Seals. By region, uniformity ranged from 80.9 in the Southeast and Texas to 82.6 in the San Joaquin Valley.

The percent of cotton classed at base quality or higher, at 55.6 percent, is the highest since 55.9 percent in 2002. By region, the San Joaquin Valley recorded the highest percentage at base quality or better, 92 percent, followed by the Desert Southwest, 65.5, Mid-South, 59.0, Southeast 55.6 and Texas, 48.5.

Every region except the San Joaquin Valley increased its base quality percentage, with the Texas region recording the largest increase from 2005.

Statistics also indicate a trend toward increasing base quality in the Mid-South and Texas, while the Southeast, “has been up and down.”

On the other hand, trends toward high quality are less significant, according to Seals. “In the Mid-South, the trend toward high quality of 31-3-35s, 27.5 strength and 80.5 uniformity decreased this year, while it increased in Texas and Oklahoma.

“I think the Mid-South produced a better fiber quality, but due to the rains in Missouri and west Tennessee, we had much more strict low middling and 4-leaf than normal. That's why you see that trending down this year.”

Quality has remained fairly consistent in the U.S. Pima crop, according to Seals, with the exception of the 2004 U.S. Pima crop. For 2006, average mike is 4.0; staple, 47.8; and strength, down slightly to 40.2.