Yield improvement is beginning to get much needed attention. But this addresses only one side of the problem. Unique improvements in essential fiber quality must be made to revive U.S. cotton/textile competitiveness in the global economy. These unique fiber properties must greatly enhance spinning efficiency and the quality of yarns produced from such fibers.

A highly significant factor in cotton’s recapture of market share during the past several years has been the development and use of Cotton Incorporated’s Engineered Fiber Selection program. This technology allows spinning mills to more effectively manage their manufacturing processes in a manner that renders cotton competitive with man-made fibers such as polyester. The basic principle upon which the success of EFS hinges is adequate control of bale-to-bale variation in pertinent fiber properties within a lay-down and from lay-down to lay-down.

For many years, quality improvement breeding programs have been focused on the magnitude of essential fiber properties - longer, stronger, finer, etc.; while the most pernicious problem may the lack of uniformity, or excessive variance in essential fiber properties.

The time has come to explore the proposition that variance in basic fiber properties could be improved through innovative breeding and management practices and to focus attention on reducing such variability and preserving the benefits of these improvements to U.S. cotton.

Recent research indicates that variability in cotton fiber properties could be significantly reduced. Moreover, current objectives in fiber improvement may be counter-productive. For example, one study shows that as average HVI fiber strength increases from 27 grams per tex to 40 grams per tex, the level of variance in HVI strength increases nearly four-fold. This is a very disturbing trend which must be addressed.

Additional data show that there is a significant level of genetic variance in length, strength and micronaire among existing genetic types of American Upland cotton and that the level of variance in these fiber properties may be significantly influenced by the in-row plant population level at which the crop is grown. This variance in basic fiber properties is influenced by the genetic make-up of the crop and the management practices used in crop production.

The point is, if variance in fiber quality is an important factor in yarn production and performance, then there appears to be a way to at least minimize this variance. It is now incumbent upon the cotton/textile industry to assess and evaluate the importance of these findings and to establish mechanisms for ensuring that such improvements are properly protected for the benefit of U.S. cotton producers and manufacturers.

Hal Lewis is a scientist, producer and ginner living in Doddridge, Ark.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com