Cotton quality varies much

Deductions for high micronaire, short staple The one constant in this year's Mid-South cotton crop is the incredible variability in yields and fiber quality from producer to producer.

Mississippi Producers in some areas of the Mississippi Delta are reporting a net cotton price of 40 cents per pound due to deductions for high micronaire and short staple length.

"Most of the producers I'm talking to are satisfied with their yields, but they are getting nailed by their fiber grades for either short staple length, high micronaire or both," says John Creech, cotton specialist at Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss. "The micronaire deductions are substantial this year. A lot of the state's cotton is grading out at 5.2 or 5.3 micronaire, which is a 600-point deduction.

Micronaire, which measures the fineness and maturity of fiber, is considered acceptable, with no deductions taken, for upland cotton grading between 3.5 and 4.9. Price deductions of about 4 cents per pound begin at micronaire grades of 5.0 or higher, with the discounts increasing substantially to about 6 cents per pound for micronaire above 5.2 or below 3.0.

"The way producers are paid for their cotton, it benefits them to plant a variety that will grade out with a 4.9 micronaire every year. Our weather conditions this year, though, have pushed the micronaires for those same varieties into the discount range," Creech says.

While heat and drought most certainly share some of the blame for the quality of this year's cotton crop, another reason for the high micronaire of some of the Delta's cotton crop, Creech says, is the genetic makeup of the area's leading cotton varieties.

"The seed companies have all pushed the micronaire up to get yield, because the easiest way to increase yield is to increase micronaire," he says. "The cotton varieties that farmers are planting are genetically disposed to a higher micronaire."

Although cotton breeders have developed lower-micronaire cotton varieties, they don't sell well because they don't yield as well, according to Creech.

Cotton yields across Mississippi this year, Creech says, are average, but spotty, with irrigated cotton yields average to just above average. "What's going to drag the state yield down is dryland cotton acreage and insurance cotton," he says.

Louisiana In Louisiana, Extension entomologist Ralph Bagwell at the LSU AgCenter's Scott Extension Center in Winnsboro is reporting irrigated cotton yields ranging from a low of 500 pounds per acre to a high of above 1,300 pounds per acre. "Our irrigated acreage is doing fairly well, with furrow-irrigated fields, in general, doing better than pivot-irrigated fields," he says.

Dryland yields in Louisiana, on the other hand, are terrible, according to Bagwell. "It wouldn't surprise me if our dryland cotton yields averaged 300 pounds per acre," he says. "Overall, I've seen worse than this year's crop, but I've seen better as well."

In terms of cotton quality, Bagwell says that micronaire grades haven't been too bad until recently. However, staple length grades have been terrible.

As of Oct. 26, about 20 percent of the state's cotton crop reportedly had received a micronaire grade of 5.0 or above. In comparison, 75 percent of the state's cotton has been graded with a staple length of 34 or shorter, which equates to fiber that is 1.0625 inches long or shorter. "The bulk of Louisiana's cotton this year falls between 32 and 35 staple length, with most in 33 to 34," Bagwell says.

Arkansas The cotton quality picture isn't as bleak in Arkansas, where the state's cotton is classing an average 34.6 in staple length, 4.5 in micronaire, and fiber strength of 27.2 grams per tex.

"If you look at micronaire, we've had a little less than 8 percent of our bales in the discount range, and less than 0.5 percent of our bales have been in the 600-point discount range above 5.3," says Bill Robertson, Extension cotton specialist in Little Rock, Ark.

Staple length measurements of 32 or shorter accounts for 1.3 percent of the cotton bales classed to this point in Arkansas. About 10 percent of the state's crop has recorded a staple length of 33, and another one-third of the crop is reported to have a staple length of 34. "The bulk of our crop is running a staple length of 34 or 35," he says.

According to Robertson, approximately 80 percent of the state's cotton has received a white color grade designation. The total cotton classed so far in the state is 886,000 bales. "If we harvest what USDA says we will harvest, which is 1.47 million bales, there's another 500,000 bales in the pipeline yet to be classed," he says.

"Looking at our color and the discounts associated with micronaire and staple, I think we're coming out pretty good, especially when I look at what some of the other states are experiencing. I just wish we had more cotton per acre to sell," says Robertson. "The quality of this year's crop has been pretty decent and our yields are running about average."

"Yields are highly variable this year, but it's estimated our state average will be 728 pounds per acre, which is 3 pounds above our running five-year average," Robertson says. "It's turned out a little better than I thought it would. I didn't think we would break 700 pounds per acre this year."

Robertson adds, "A little stress here, a little nematode there... these are some of the things that add up in a hurry in a year like this year. We've also learned this year that some varieties tolerate stress a little better than others.

"It's also obvious which farmers have a good handle on irrigation. They are producing good cotton this year. A stressful year like this one magnifies the ones that are a little bit off on their irrigation timings," he says.

SOUTHEAST MISSOURI cotton producers have until Nov. 22 to return their ballots for a referendum on a boll weevil eradication program for the Bootheel region.

Ballots for the referendum were mailed Nov. 3 and must be returned to county Farm Service Agency offices by Nov. 22. County FSA personnel will count the ballots on Nov. 29.

A referendum in August failed to produce the two-thirds majority needed for passage of the eradication program. Slightly more than 60 percent of those casting ballots voted in favor of the program.

Under the terms of the current referendum, farmers would be assessed $10 per acre the first year and $12.50 per acre for the remaining six years of the seven-year program. Costs would have been higher under previous referendums.

Congress recently included $59 million for boll weevil eradication in the Fiscal Year 2001 agricultural appropriations bill that could be used to offset the cost of eradication in states that are now attempting to eradicate the pest.

TOP QUALITY beef animals will move through the auction ring Nov. 16 as Mississippi State University releases more than 100 surplus cattle to the highest bidders.

MSU and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station will host the 18th annual Production Sale at MSU's AgriCenter.

The university will provide a free lunch at noon and the sale will begin at 1 p.m.

Pregnant, commercial heifers from MSU and the Brown Loam Branch Experiment Station in Raymond, Miss., will be sold, along with two-year-old Angus, Charolais, and Polled Hereford bulls.

Select heifers from the 2000 calf crop also will be available.

Horses and two mules that are trained to halters will be included in this year's sale.

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