'US farmers must come up with a better fibre or "the market will shrink and your prices will shrink too."
"There's no question we have a problem, both in fibre yield and quality"'
USA: GMO Link To Decline In US Cotton Quality Feared
11 Jan 2001
By Rene Pastor
US textile manufacturers are suspicious that the widespread use of genetically modified plants (GMO) in cotton farms may have contributed to the fall in cotton quality, a senior US textile official said Wednesday.
"There are a number of textile people that are suspicious simply because of the circumstantial evidence that the GM cotton is increasing in terms of its selection by the producers and our quality trends are decreasing," Stephen Felker, chairman and chief executive of Avondale Mills in Monroe, Georgia, told Reuters in an interview at the start of the annual Beltwide Cotton conference.
Felker, who is a key official in the American Textile Manufacturers Association, warned US textile mill consumption of locally grown fibre may suffer if quality concerns are not addressed.
"If we don't have the product to run our advance technological equipment, then our consumption will drop because we won't compete," he said.
US mills are estimated to consume in 2000/01 only 9.9 million (480-lb) bales of cotton, a mark representing a nine-year trough and down from the record 11.3 million bales consumed in 1997/98.
Felker said in a speech to delegates attending the conference that something is devaluing the quality of US cotton "and it could not happen at a worse time."
Some 12 per cent of world cotton is now planted to GMO varieties and the International Cotton Advisory Council (ICAC) has estimated this would rise to 50 per cent in five to seven years.
"GM cotton may be addressing pest control and the impact of agriculture on the environment, but do you know with certainty that it is not hurting fibre quality? I am not convinced," declared Felker.
But Thomas Hughes, president of Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Co Inc in Memphis, Tennessee, said in a separate interview with Reuters that blaming GMO cotton does not solely account for the decline in quality.
"The point is we've switched cotton varieties. No matter the transgenics or not, when you switch cotton varieties, you switch fibre qualities," he said.
"We've had tremendous droughts and weather problems over the last three years. That whole environmental interaction, coupled with the fact we switched varieties, have had an impact on fibre quality," he added.
Felker said micronaire quality, a measure to determine the width of the fibre of the cotton, required by cotton mills for Memphis eastern and Texas cotton has become too coarse and variable.
Textile manufacturers would want a micronaire reading between 4.2-4.4. Felker said micronaire readings from 1996 to the present have fluctuated from near 3.9 to as high as 4.3.
Trade sources said the industry normally allows a micronaire reading between 3.5 and 4.9. The length of staple cotton, a vital ingredient for mill spinners, is "deteriorating" in Texas and is a serious problem with Memphis and Eastern growths, the Avondale official said.
The length should reach an average of 1-1/16 inch (34) and even 1-3/32 inch (35) instead of the average 1-1/32 inch (33) they have seen over the past year. Asked by a grower if mills would be willing to pay a premium for higher quality cotton, Felker said that may be possible but that US farmers must come up with a better fibre or "the market will shrink and your prices will shrink too."
"There's no question we have a problem, both in fibre yield and quality," added Jack Hamilton, a cotton producer in Lake Providence, Louisiana.
(C) Reuters Limited 2001.