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Ginners see big crop looming

"We may end up with a bigger crop than '91," Buddy Cochran, president of the Mississippi Cotton Ginners Association, said at the summer meeting of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association (SCGA) at Biloxi, Miss.

"We had the largest acreage increase of any cotton belt state, with 1.7 million acres. We've had generally good weather, and thanks to the eradication program, the boll weevil has been almost non-existent. On the whole, we've got a good-looking crop."

Cochran said 81 percent of Mississippi's cotton is biotech varieties. "Sixty-one percent is stacked gene varieties, which is an increase from 36 percent previously."

Tim Turner, president of the Tennessee Cotton Ginners Association, said acreage is up 6 percent to7 percent, "and we've got a good boll set where we've had adequate rain - but rain has been spotty."

The boll weevil eradication program is going well, he said, with "very little activity."

In the northern part of the Missouri Bootheel, cotton that was planted early and got rain "looks very good," said Allen Williams, president of the Arkansas-Missouri Cotton Ginners Association. "In the middle and southern areas, rain has been spotty.

"Irrigated cotton is looking very good; non-irrigated that hasn't had rain is looking half-bale-ish. Dryland cotton is going to need rain soon, or it will be in trouble."

Curtis Stewart, vice president of the Arkansas-Missouri association, said the state has 15 percent to 20 percent more cotton acres than last year.

"Overall, it looks good and we're about on course in terms of crop progress and development."

Bobby Todd, president of the SCGA and the Louisiana Cotton Growers Association, said "the next two or three weeks will determine what kind of crop Louisiana will have.

"The area north of I-20 is dry, but the rest of the state is in good shape. Boll weevils are non-existent. We need some rain to finish out the crop - but there's going to be a lot of cotton, regardless."

And that prospect for a large crop is a concern for the U.S. cotton industry, said James Echols, president of Hohenberg Cotton Co. and chairman of the National Cotton Council.

"With 2001 crop projections of over 19 million bales, coupled with reduced domestic offtake, we must raise exports significantly to avoid an ending stocks number that could exceed 7 million bales," he said.

With the U.S. textile industry fighting for its survival, Echols said, and a gross disparity in monetary exchange rates favoring Asian nations and unleashing a flood of textile/apparel imports, there is a greater need for effective trade policies and export enhancement programs.

"Along with negotiating the best possible farm policy, these areas will need to be dealt with effectively for both the short and long term viability of the cotton industry."

The council's priorities for the trade title of the new farm bill include:

•Maintaining cotton's competitiveness provisions.

• Insuring that new trade agreements are favorable to U.S. cotton and that existing regional trade agreements are effectively implemented.

•Maintaining effective export assistance programs, including the Export Credit Guarantee program.

• Insuring that China's compliance with its trade commitments is monitored and enforced.

• Working for a new World Trade Organization agreement that improves the competitive position of cotton.

"Our industry is committed to a strategic approach to trade and trade negotiations that evaluates new proposals based on their overall impact on our industry," Echols said.

While he said the council will work "to steer the negotiations in a direction that will provide the most benefit to our industry," he noted that the Bush Administration "has so far made it clear it is committed to significant trade liberalization. Our industry must, therefore, concentrate on enhancing our ability to compete."

He said steps "must be taken to stop the bleeding in the domestic textile industry, and it is of critical importance that we find an effective way to deal with monetary exchange rates."

The U.S. cotton industry is "evolving into a more efficient sector than ever before," Echols said. "Competition domestically and abroad has led us to develop new marketing approaches, new ginning technology, new trading relationships, and innovative production practices.

"We will need all of this innovation and efficiency along with an adequate level of government support to turn the corner and regain our profitability."

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