Color and leaf grades for the 2010 cotton crop were exceptional in almost every region of the Cotton Belt, according to a report from the Agricultural Marketing Service, Bartlett, Tenn.

“Overall, the quality of the U.S. cotton crop has been on an upward trend thanks primarily to the large percentage of it now being grown in Texas (48 percent in 2010), as well as significant quality improvements in the Texas crop over the last few years,” said Robbie Seals, grading branch chief for USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service, cotton and tobacco programs.

Ninety-three percent of the U.S. cotton crop was classed at a color grade of 41-32 and higher. “We may see that go even higher because it looks like the remaining million bales to be classed are going to be of high quality,” Seals said.

The average leaf grade, at 2.9, and extraneous matter, at 7 percent, were the lowest in five years. The micronaire average of 4.5 was the highest in the last five years and was up significantly in the Southeast and Mid-South. Strength of 30 grams per tex was the highest average since the advent of HVI testing. The staple average, at 35.4, was down slightly from 2009. Base quality and higher, at 55.2 percent, is up from 48 percent in 2009.

As of Jan. 4, USDA had classed 16 million bales of upland cotton, with expectations of another 1.1 million bales to be classed. Seals said 294,000 bales of Pima had been classed of an estimated 475,000 bales.

The final total of upland and Pima cotton classed is expected to be around 17.6 million bales, “which is a little less than what we had anticipated. We thought we were going to bump close to the 2007 crop of 17.9 million bales.”

Color grades were exceptional in almost every region, according to Seals. “North Carolina and Virginia had some real heavy rains right at cotton harvest, which affected the quality reports. The Mid-South experienced that last year in Louisiana and south Arkansas.”

USDA reported the lowest leaf grade average (under a 3.0) since USDA began separating out color and leaf. “It was lower in all regions, as much as half a grade in the Mid-South and Texas.”

Percent extraneous matter was also very low, 3.7, thanks in large part to significant reductions in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, Seals noted. Percent extraneous matter in the region was down to 7.6 percent from 30 percent in 2009 and around 50 percent in 2008.

Average micronaire in the 2010 crop was reported higher than usual, 4.54, compared to 4.2 in 2009. “We think that’s going to come on down a little bit as more bales are classed,” Seals said. “Mississippi and Louisiana averaged a 4.9 mike, while the entire Mid-South averaged a 4.88 mike.”

Seals said almost 45 percent of the Mid-South cotton crop was rated at a mike of 5.0 or higher, after the region experienced several years in a row of decreasing mike. The Southeast also experienced its highest mike crop in several years, with 32 percent of its crop in the discount range. Texas and California had very little high mike.

Highest strength ever

The 2010 U.S. cotton crop had the highest strength average ever at 30, according to Seals. “The next closest year was 2008, at 29.6. The average could increase since the bulk of the remaining crop to be classed is in west Texas, which traditionally produces a high strength crop.”

Strength increased in every region except the Desert Southwest.

There was little change in average staple length across the crop, at 35.4, according to Seals. There was a slight decrease in staple length in the Mid-South.

Average staple of the U.S. crop has increased since 2006, also due to improvements in Texas, Seals noted. “Texas staple length had been below the U.S. average prior to that. In 2006, it jumped above the average and has stayed above the average ever since.”

The percent of cotton at base quality (41-4-34) with 3.5-4.9 mike; no extraneous matter; and strength; 26.5 or higher was 55.2 percent, the second highest ever. By region, the percentage was lower than usual for the Southeast and the Mid-South. The lower values in the Southeast were due to light-spotted cotton in the Carolinas and in the Mid-South, to high mike.

Seals reports that 50 percent of the combined Alabama and Georgia crops were at base quality or better. Louisiana and Mississippi increased their percentage from 20 percent to 40 percent. Seals said Tennessee continues to produce a very high percentage at base quality or higher, nearly 60 percent in 2010, even though the percentage declined from the previous year.

The percentage of Pima cotton at Pima grade 3 (color 3, leaf 3) and higher, was 95 percent, up a little from last year, but not as high as the previous three years. Average mike was measured at 3.8. Pima recorded the longest staple since HVI classing, at 48.2, and one of the highest ever for strength, 41.7.

The information comes from 11 USDA classing offices. The Phoenix, Ariz., and Birmingham, Ala., classing offices are no longer operating. Cotton formerly classed at the Phoenix office has been moved to the Visalia, Calif., office, while cotton classed at the Birmingham office has been moved to either Memphis or Macon, Ga.