U.S. cotton producers would probably support universal standards for all of the world's producing and consuming countries, but only if the standards are set as high as those in the United States, a leading U.S. cotton producer said.

Kenneth Hood, former chairman of the National Cotton Council and a producer from Perthshire, Miss., said new standards such as those being proposed by an International Cotton Advisory Committee task force could make it easier to market U.S. cotton around the world.

The prospective standards were the subject of the panel discussion “How Do We Standardize in a Global Market?” at the 18th annual Cotton Incorporated Engineered Fiber Selection System Conference in Memphis, Tenn.

“As a cotton producer, I think I am free to say that we are supportive of the ICAC expert panel of judges as long as the actions of the panel are in line with the USDA classification standardization objectives and procedures,” Hood told EFS Conference participants.

“Cotton producers are not supportive of any action that decreases the value of the USDA classification and promotes relaxed standards. In other words, we support the concept of internationally accepted standards, but only to the extent that principles of scientific, statistical merit prevail.”

Hood said a good example of those principles at work is the recent exchange of information between officials of the China Fiber Inspection Bureau and representatives of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Cotton Program.

Members of the Cotton Program's Standardization and Engineering Branch have traveled to China for discussions with China Fiber Inspection Bureau leaders about their five-year cotton classing reform plan that will be launched in September.

“The United States has worked very closely with the Chinese, and a high degree of information exchange has been established between them so they can ensure that the Chinese system will be compatible with the USDA system,” said Hood. “It's clearly in our best interest that China's classing is consistent with ours since China spins more cotton than any other country in the world.”

Andrew G. Macdonald, director of Santista Textile SA, and chairman of the ICAC standardization task force, said the wide-ranging styles of cotton and marketing systems in the world may make it difficult for the task force to win acceptance of universal standards.

But it may be possible to develop a worldwide instrument classing system “that would emulate the USDA classing system.” The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and the Bremen, Germany, Fiber Institute are working together to explore a worldwide classing system, Macdonald noted.

Hood indicated U.S. producers would encourage such cooperation if USDA does not have to weaken its standards.

“As we move to adopt instrumentation classing systems, it would be wise if other countries learn from the U.S. experience,” he said. “The United States has consistently supported only test measures that are scientifically repeatable.

“To be meaningful, the tolerances for each measurement need to be as small as possible. I would caution that if wide commercial tolerance is accepted to accommodate poor measurement technology, then the trade is indeed taking a step backwards.”

The National Cotton Council has a long-standing policy to improve classing through instrument testing, he noted. “But we support instrument classing only through methods that have been proven feasible as well as reliable. We have resisted the temptation to compromise accuracy just to expedite adoption of instrument testing.”

If the world indeed desires to develop global standards, Hood suggested it follow these principles:

  • The world should adopt one set of standards with no dilution of tolerance.
  • The goal of the performance should be set as high as that in the United States. “Only USDA is qualified to lead an international effort to standardize instrument classification,” he said.
  • Accuracy should not be compromised even if it is perceived to promote instrument testing adoption.
  • Cotton-producing countries should adopt universally accepted criteria, not different standards for different countries.
  • Universal calibration standards are essential. “Every machine must be calibrated using the same set of calibration cotton.”
  • Countries must agree and adhere to rules on how calibration cotton would be used.
  • They should also avoid temptations to use correction algorithms to account for inconsistent temperature and humidity controls.
  • They should establish a meaningful laboratory certification program that must be coordinated by an independent authority. “The U.S. cotton industry and USDA have more experience than anybody in the world, and we should insist on a seat at the table to make sure standards are maintained.”
  • All bales should be sampled with samples cut from each side of the bale.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com