SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — National Cotton Council Chairman Kenneth Hood says the outlook is promising for new U.S. cotton varieties to offer improved fiber quality.

"Beginning next year, we can expect to see increases in staple length and strength and reduced micronaire," Hood said. "And we can anticipate even greater improvements in following years. The genetic background is surely improving and by employing modern technology and management, we can maximize its potential."

The Mississippi cotton producer/ginner was addressing some 400 of the world's leading cotton buyers, top executives of major U.S. cotton export organizations and other industry leaders at the 2002 Sourcing USA Summit in Scottsdale, Ariz. Sponsored by the U.S. cotton industry, the Summit aims to increase demand for U.S. cotton fiber by creating and strengthening relationships between U.S. cotton exporters and buyers from throughout the world.

Hood told the buyers, many of whom are considered to be in the world's top 200 in purchasing volume, that "cotton producers and textile mills are in similar circumstances. We both must be efficient to stay in business and we both must get the best materials at reasonable prices. We want to be your supplier."

Hood also provided results of tests comparing the quality of transgenic and conventional cottons. Data from the tests, conducted by university scientists in 16 different states over six years, were reported at the 2001 International Cotton Advisory Committee meeting in 2001 and at the Bremen Fiber Test Conference this past March. Result highlights included:

(1) A slight yield increase was detected in Bt and stacked Bt/Roundup Ready and a slight decrease in BXN. Increases in yield are likely due to greater insect protection of Bt;

(2) Only slight changes in fiber strength were observed, with a decrease of about 1/3-gram per tex for Bt;

(3) Staple length was unchanged for Bt, a very slight decrease for stacked and Roundup Ready and a very slight increase for BXN;

(4) Micronaire was slightly improved for Bt, stacked and Roundup Ready and BXN;

(5) As with other parameters, there is little detectable change in length uniformity index.

"This is a comprehensive study and proves to me that transgenic technology in and of itself has no negative effect on fiber quality," Hood said. "If there were changes, they would have been detected through this rigorous analysis."

In another report, Gary Adams, NCC's vice president for economics and policy development, told the cotton buyers that the United States is looking at lower cotton production in 2002, but after taking into account beginning stocks, there will still be relatively large supplies. He said there are indications from recent numbers that annual U.S. mill cotton use, even though under 8 million bales, has stabilized. Exports are expected to approach 11 million bales in the 2003-04 marketing year.

The smaller U.S. crop in 2002, he said, is due to both reduced acreage and lower yields. Latest estimates put the crop at 17.8 million bales, 2.5 million below last year's level. He said three of the four major production regions will harvest smaller crops than a year ago.

The exception is the Southwest, where an increase of 900,000 bales is expected. Lower abandonment of acreage and higher yields both contribute to the increase.

The decline in the Far West is due to reduced area as yields are above the 2001 levels.

Harvest is well behind the average pace in the Southeast due to frequent rains. In a number of states, almost half of the acres had yet to be picked by mid-November. While current estimates for these states show lower production than a year ago, further revisions by USDA are likely to show an even smaller crop.

"I do not believe that we will see large reductions, but it could be in the order of another 300,000 to 400,000 bales," the economist said.

Adams noted that cotton textile imports into the United States have doubled in the last 10 years, going from 8 million bales up to 16 million. Based on data through July, it appears imports will top 16 million bales this year.

"In the past couple of years, we have seen such a surge from China that imports from NAFTA countries have declined," Adams said. "Future trade agreements and the elimination of quotas in 2005 would suggest imports continue to increase. The question may be how quickly imports grow and that will hinge to a certain extent on the strength of the dollar."

Cotton Council International and Cotton Incorporated worked with the leadership of the U.S. cotton industry and USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service to organize the Summit. CCI, the export promotion arm of the Memphis-based National Cotton Council, collaborates with Cotton Incorporated to expand overseas markets for U.S. cotton and its products.