To capitalize on a growing world demand, U.S. producers need to improve quality, analysts say. “We have to do better,” says Randy Boman, extension cotton agronomist at Lubbock.

He said High Plains cotton farmers should concentrate on staple length, fiber strength and micronaire to compete in international markets.

“The overall trend for staple length was up until 1999,” Boman told participants in the Southwest Crops Production Conference in Lubbock. “We dropped in 1999, but 2001 and 2002 look some better, but we have to get those numbers up.”

Same goes for fiber strength. “We had a similar upward trend until a drop in 2000,” he said. “We have to move that back up.”

Boman said the High Plains recorded the highest micronaire numbers ever in 2001. “We had high mike in 2002. Across the High Plains we average 3.4 mike. That’s a discount and we have to improve.”

He said growers could reduce grass and bark discounts with more accurate stripper adjustments.

Boman said emerging technology also provides tools to improve cotton yield potential and fiber quality.

“Bollgard II should be available in a limited number of picker varieties this year,” he said. “Technology fee will run about $40 per bag.”

He said Liberty Link cotton varieties also should be available in 2003, “pending EPA approval.”

Roundup Ready Flex, technology that extends the application window for application on Roundup Ready varieties, may be available as soon as 2005, perhaps 2006. “This innovation could lead to more no-till cotton,” Boman said.

“Syngenta and Dow AgroSciences also have products coming with biotechnology features,” he said.

Growers will have a limited overlap between the time second-generation technology hits the market and the first generation retires, Boman said. “We may have three years with products from both generations available.”

He said new technology must prove itself profitable with good yield and quality characteristics. “It must help break through the yield and quality plateaus and attract international buyers.”

e-mail: Rsmith@primediabusiness.com