“Fiber quality is critical to marketing success of U.S. cotton, and we believe three areas of research: improved new varieties, increased efficiency of crop management and improved harvest and post-harvest technology; are critical to increasing fiber quality,” says Barrye Worsham, president and CEO of Cotton Incorporated (CI) in Cary, N.C.
Speaking at the recent Beltwide Cotton Conference in San Antonio, Texas, Worsham says working in cooperation with the National Cotton Council, Cotton International, seed companies, and machinery companies is a focus of CI's 165 employees and to their mission of increasing demand and profitability of U.S. cotton.
Worsham notes a continual increase in emphasis on research at CI, pointing out that research has long-been recognized as the foundation for good production and marketing.
In developing new varieties, the first phase of CI's research emphasis, Worsham says it is important to remember that fiber is the building block to all the end products of cotton. Without high quality fiber, geared to market demand, cotton has little chance in the international marketplace, where over 70 percent of U.S-grown cotton goes.
“When you consider that we are competing for market share with other cotton producing countries worldwide, and more importantly with other fibers worldwide, it is easy to see the impact that new and improved varieties will have over the next few years,” Worsham points out.
In addition to developing new varieties, Worsham described increased efficiency in crop management and harvest and post harvest techniques as the three legs of CI's research effort.
CI-supported research has helped identify germplasm beneficial to cotton varieties and has provided DNA markers, making incorporation of these beneficial genes easier for breeders, Worsham says. “The trickle of germplasm we saw in 2005, combined with what is currently in the pipeline, should provide a flood of new material in 2006,” Worsham predicts.
One of the biggest breakthroughs in the coming years may be varieties with resistance to nematodes, specifically reniform nematodes. He points out that nematodes annually account for about $165 million in losses to cotton growers.
Improved varieties alone won't mean much unless this new technology is efficiently managed by growers, the CI leader contends. Worsham says CI supported research on integrated pest management, irrigation, precision agriculture and record-keeping software are geared to helping farmers make management decisions that are often the difference between a profitable crop and one that is not successful.
Documentation, he says, of precision agriculture techniques, such as soil and field mapping and integrated field sampling have led to reductions in use of plant growth regulators, pesticides, fertilizers, defoliants and seeding rates without negatively impacting cotton yields or quality. Getting this information from researchers to growers and into their management practices is an ongoing goal of CI, according to Worsham.
Even after producing a high yield, high quality crop, farmers still face the challenge of good harvest and post-harvest management, the CI leader points out. CI research into ginning efficiency, crop marketing and lint cleaning are among the issues being addressed by CI-supported research, Worsham explains.
Overall, CI is expected to contribute nearly $10 million to these four areas of cotton research in 2006. In stressing the importance of each component of CI's research program, Worsham notes that it is critical for breeders to develop new, improved varieties that work well for the grower, but also perform well for ginners and spinners worldwide.
Engineered Fiber Selection (EFS) software is an important tool used by CI to further increase use of U.S. cotton overseas. Approximately 70 percent of the U.S. crop is exported and Worsham points out that research indicates mills that use EFS tend to buy more U.S. cotton. He notes that EFS licenses have been granted in 30 countries worldwide and that the first license to a Chinese operation occurred in 2005, which is significant since China is the leading customer for U.S. cotton.
In terms of marketing strategies, Worsham explains that CI has moved away from their ‘cotton is the fabric of our lives’ strategy that places cotton as a touchy, feel good fiber. He says new campaigns will focus on ‘you can never have enough cotton’ with specific campaigns on ‘you can never have enough jeans’, emphasizing that denim is the top cotton product on the market worldwide.