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- Editor's Note -

Fiber Quality – Still A Big Issue

By Tommy Horton

As we roll into harvest and ginning season, that familiar topic continues to be mentioned everywhere we turn. You hear it every year about this time – fiber quality. In our cover story this month, we take another look at what has to be done to protect that precious white fiber before it heads to the textile mill or warehouse.

Even though we’re going over familiar ground here, it never hurts to refresh our memory on the “do’s and don’ts” for preserving quality from defoliation through harvest and ginning. After all, this is the world we live in today. Our major customers in Asia are demanding a longer, stronger cotton that isn’t contaminated.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to proclaim that the majority of farmers in the Belt know that fiber quality is important. They know premiums are what every farmer wants when his cotton is graded. But you’ll also hear another familiar statement that “pounds pay the bills.” Yes, we’ve come a long way in the awareness department. Every farmer now realizes that more than two-thirds of U.S. cotton is exported, with only about 4 to 5 million bales consumed by U.S. textile mills.

Even though we can’t answer all of the questions about fiber quality versus yield, we can report that the technology pipeline is giving our seed companies a chance to deliver what farmers have always needed. Seed breeders actually started answering the call back in 2001 when the quality issue was on the front burner for all sectors of the production chain. Lest anyone forget, that was the year when a famous debate occurred at the Beltwide Cotton Production Conference in Anaheim, Calif.

You’ll recall the spirited discussion between mill representatives and producers back then. The mills claimed that they needed better fiber quality for their high speed Vortex equipment. The producers openly talked about the necessity of being rewarded for growing quality. And in the middle were some seed company representatives who told both sides that the pipeline was about to deliver varieties that would satisfy all parties.

I’ll always remember what the late Jack Hamilton, a legendary Louisiana producer, said after that 2001 Beltwide meeting. Jack, who never minced his words, said matter-of-factly, “These mill folks were my friends before this meeting, and they’ll be my friends after the meeting.”

A lot of those U.S. mills aren’t around anymore, but I think Jack would feel good about some recent developments. Seed breeders have indeed delivered exciting new traits for cotton varieties that will take the industry forward through the next decade. And, mill presidents and producers still engage in those friendly debates.

Viewed from any angle, that’s real progress.

If you have comments, send them to: Editor, Cotton Farming Magazine, 5118 Park Ave., Suite 111, Memphis, Tenn., 38117. Or send e-mail to: thorton@onegrower.com.

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