Mid-South producers and ginners have an excellent reputation for the quality of their skills and practices, says Frederick Barrier, “but maintaining that reputation is more and more important as we export a larger percentage of the Delta crop.”

In the global economy, “margins are extremely tight and competition very stiff,” the senior director of North American sales for the Greenwood, Miss. Staplcotn cooperative said at the joint meeting of the Delta Council's Ginning and Cotton Quality Improvement Committee and the Southern Cotton Ginners Association at Stoneville, Miss.

“It takes just one negative incident or experience to create mistrust and turmoil among our foreign customers,” he said. “Integrity and efficiency in our farming and ginning practices will continue to increase in importance as the seesaw continues to tilt toward more Delta cotton being consumed outside the U.S.

“Efficiency is a vital tool for survival in the global textile industry and it's imperative that mills have the correct quality cotton so their spinning equipment can operate at maximum efficiency.”

Barrier pointed to “a striking and sometimes disturbing shift” in consumption of U.S. cotton over the past 10 years, with exports increasing from 7 million bales in 1997 to 17 million bales in 2005.

“In that same period, domestic consumption dropped from 11 million bales to 5.5 million bales. These shifts have had a tremendous impact on demand for cotton produced in this area.”

Some 75 percent of U.S. cotton is now exported, with China by far the largest consumer — this season, they're expected to use over 8.8 million bales.

“With these shifts in demand have come a significant change in demands on the quality produced in this region,” Barrier says. “Each country and each mill has its own particular taste for cotton, and this will be a challenge for all of us as we continue to learn this new game.

“We have to adapt to new customers, attempt to meet their needs, and try to better understand what they want in terms of quality.”

Ninety percent of the world's total cotton consumption is now outside the U.S., he says, and approximately 80 percent of those mills operate ring spinning equipment. In the U.S., the ratio is just the opposite, with 80 percent of the mills using open-end spinning equipment.

“The major requirement for ring spinning is long staple,” Barrier says. “Most of those mills require a minimum 1 3/32-inch and in most cases, an average length of 1-1/8-inch. Because of this, we've seen loan values and demand for these qualities grow as demand for ring spinning cotton has increased.”

Loan premiums for high grade cotton have been on the rise for the past five years, he says. “We've seen an increase every year.

“In 2002, the premium for 31-3-36 cotton was 310 points; this season, it's 535 points. For 31-3-35, the loan premium was 280 points in 2002; it's 465 points this year.”

There are also significant premium differences for leaf content, Barrier says, and “effectively managing leaf content should be a top priority for produces and ginners wanting to maximize returns in today's marketplace.

“When you get into leaf grades 4 and 5, your returns drop substantially. I really believe the management required to obtain the better leaf grades will more than outweigh any weight loss in your bale.”

Micronaire discounts have been going down since 2002, Barrier says. “We aren't seeing as many high mikes, and we're hoping it won't be much of an issue this year.”

Grass and bark haven't been much of a problem in the Delta either, he says, noting that “discounts for this kind of cotton can be very severe.