Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service cotton economist John Robinson recently toured what he calls “the West Texas of China,” trekking to southern Xinjiang to get a first-hand look at farming and harvesting practices.

The result of his two-week trip abroad was a collection of observations — views of farming practices and other insights — that will serve as aids in forecasting cotton trends for Texas and U.S. farmers, plus help determine potential worldwide demand.

 “Cotton is obviously king there,” he said. “They’re trying to diversify the region’s agriculture by growing more ‘jujubee’ orchards — sort of like a date—potatoes and other (crops).”

He said little transportation is in place, observing carts that are typically used for onions and other commodities being hauled.

“If I had to guess, I’d say that Xinjiang is probably like West Texas in that it will be the last bastion of domestic Chinese cotton production,” he said “They have to overcome problems with saline soils, and lack of labor, and the cost of hauling cotton bales from there to the eastern portion of China. One way they’re dealing with the latter is trying to establish more cotton spinning and cloth/apparel (towels) manufactured locally in Xinjiang.”

In Xinjiang, it is “incredibly dry and much like West Texas,” Robinson said.

“Everything is irrigated, and irrigation appears to be a system of canals tapping into reservoirs of snow-melt water from the nearby mountains,” he said. “I saw a few instances of visible white salt on the soil surface; it was obvious they have a soil salinity problem.”

Most of the fields he viewed had been harvested, mostly by hand.

“The fields look like nice 10 to 20 acre rectangles, bordered by a row of trees,” he said. “I think the purpose of the border is like a Rolling Plains shelter belt to mitigate sandstorm damage. They harvest seed cotton and dump it at the edge of the field in a pile. I guess that works as long as it doesn’t rain. I don’t get the impression that it rains very much.”

Robinson said at some point, a tractor pulling a trailer showed up and the seed cotton thrown in and hauled to a gin.

“In terms of marketing, that’s where the growers sell their cotton to the gin-buyer,” Robinson said. “I think that’s the same model just about everywhere else (except the U.S., Brazil, and Australia where growers retain ownership of ginned bales).”