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Weather impacts on cotton quality

With about 83 percent of the 2005 U.S. cotton crop classed, USDA is reporting a small decline from 2004 in staple length and percent uniformity, but the best year in the last five for percentage at base grade or better.

The figures are for 18.7 million bales of upland classed as of Dec. 22, 2005. USDA projects that it will class around 22.3 million bales of upland for the 2005 growing season.

As of Dec. 22, USDA had classed 382,000 bales of Pima cotton out of an estimated 610,000 bales produced. That would put the entire crop of U.S. cotton at about 23 million bales, which meets earlier USDA projections for 2005.

Information on the 2005 cotton crop was presented by Robbie Seals, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, Cotton Program, Bartlett, Tenn., during the 2006 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio.

According to Seals, color grade in 2005 rebounded from the 2004 crop, with 92 percent of the crop at 41/32 and higher. That's the second highest level over the past five years and a 16 percent increase from the 2004 crop.

Four of the five cotton-growing regions improved the percentage of cotton in color grades 41/32 and higher. The Southeast was the only region which declined from last year, dropping to just under 80 percent in that category. “Just about the time they had begun to harvest, one of the storms came through and dumped quite a bit of rain on the crop,” Seals said.

There was little change in average leaf grade, 3.3, for the United States, according to Seals, even though the Mid-South, Southeast and San Joaquin Valley all recorded higher average leaf content than last year.

There was a big improvement from the previous year in percent extraneous matter in the 2005 crop, moving from 16.1 percent to 2.6 percent. By region, all regions except Texas and Oklahoma were below 2 percent. Good harvest conditions were the biggest reason for the improvement.

Average micronaire of 4.3 was unchanged from the 2004 season, although the average could fall further by the time the classing season is over. “We still have about 2 million bales to be classed in west Texas and we expect that to bring the average down.”

Between 25 percent and 30 percent of west Texas cotton is expected to fall below 3.5 in mike. Around 74 percent of the 2005 crop fell between 3.5 and 4.9.

Average strength remained the same as the previous year's crop. However, the San Joaquin Valley increased its average strength by 1 gram per tex. The Mid-South is the only area where strength dropped, although only slightly, from last year.

Average staple length of the 2005 crop fell off a tenth of a percent this year, dropping from 35 to 34.9. However, the only region with shorter average staple than last year was the Mid-South, which dropped from an average of 35 to 34.6. “This was the first time in my career that I can remember the Mid-South having the lowest staple of any region in the United States. I've talked to some producers in Louisiana and Mississippi who say that dry weather in August is one reason why staple is a little shorter this year.”

Length uniformity dropped three-tenths of a percent from last year to 80.8, the lowest average over the past five crops. The most significant drop was again the Mid-South.

The percentage of cotton at base grade or higher (41 color, 4 leaf, 34 staple, 35-49 mike and 26.5 strength and 79.5 uniformity) was 53.1 percent, second only to the 2003 crop. The Southeast region was the only region that declined in the percent of cotton in the base quality range.

The percentage of Pima at quality designation of 3 or better was 95.5 percent, a significant increase over 2004. Mike of 4.0 was consistent with previous crops. The average staple length of 47.8 was the highest average over the last five years. The crop's average strength of 40.6 is up from 40.3 for the 2004 crop.

“The one factor that contributed the most to the quality of the 2005 crop was weather,” Seals said. “Weather had a very positive impact during harvest season, which is why we see the better color grade. It also had a negative impact early in the growing season, and that contributed to some shorter staple in the Mid-South. The wetter weather we had in the Southeast right at harvest led to an increase in light spots.”

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