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Pima Cotton Crop is Booming

May 16, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Whether it is called Pima cotton or extra-long staple cotton, the fiber ELS is a rapidly growing crop that is demanding top prices from discriminating textile manufacturers around the world.

In the United States, market prices for ELS have been high enough the last two years so that the Agriculture Department hasn’t had to make ″deficiency payments″ to growers.

For example, last week the department’s Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service announced the average market price for ELS cotton was $1.15 per pound. The target price for 1988 ELS was 95.7 cents per pound, meaning growers won’t get any price subsidies.

Upland cotton, which accounts for most U.S. production, averaged 56.5 cents per pound last year, well below the 1988 upland target of 75.9 cents - which meant millions of dollars in deficiency payments to farmers.

The USDA generally calls it ELS but notes that American Pima is the better- known name. Everyone agrees that Pima, or ELS, is a special kind of cotton having a fiber lint measuring generally 1-3/8 inches to 1-3/4 inches long. The International Cotton Advisory Committee traditionally defines extra-long staple as 1-3/8 inches or longer.

From a total cotton production standpoint, ELS is puny. The U.S. cotton harvest last year was about 15.4 million bales, with more than 15 million bales of that comprised of upland cotton, the shorter-staple fiber that is grown commercially in at least 17 states from Georgia to California.

But the 338,200 bales of ELS cotton in 1988 was a record output. And another increase is expected this year. In 1983, U.S. production was 94,700 bales.

A report by Priscilla A. Andrew of the department’s Foreign Agricultural Service says there are a number of ELS varieties grown in the world, including American Pima, Egyptian Giza, Sudanese Barakat, Peruvian, Israeli Pima and Indian, as well as some in China and the Soviet Union.

This year, according to a recent survey, ELS growers plan to boost plantings sharply again to 291,000 acres from 187,400 acres in 1988.

Arizona is the biggest ELS producer, followed by Texas and New Mexico. But it is also being introduced into the San Joaquin Valley area of California.

On a global basis, the report said, Egypt is the biggest producer of long and extra-long staple cotton, considered by some to be the finest in the world. Most of the world’s supply of ELS is used in yarns requiring high strength and fineness.

″It is used primarily in high quality sewing thread, fine broadcloths and specialty yarns for lace and knitted goods,″ the report said. ″ELS is also used in products to enhance their appearance and feel.″

For example, the report said, ELS can be used in dress shirts and sheets and towels where ″a luxurious feel and appearance plus durability and strength are desirable.″ Most of the world’s ELS exports go to Europe and the Far East.

The first ELS cotton was introduced into the United States in 1786 from seed received from the Bahamas. It was called Sea Island cotton and was ″the finest, longest and most valuable cotton grown in the world,″ the report said. Production was confined to the coastal lowlands of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Always commanding premium prices, Sea Island cotton sold for as much as $1.10 to $1.25 per pound in 1825, when upland cotton was selling for 9 to 25 cents, the report said. It was produced for export only, with most going to Europe.

But by 1924, the destructive boll weevil had taken its toll and Sea Island cotton had died out.

The first commercial strains of ELS appeared in the United States about 1912. During World War I, ELS was needed for airplanes, balloon cloth and machine belts, where high tensile strength was essential.

Egyptian cotton failed in the old Cotton Belt because of the short growing season, the report said. Consequently, experimental farms were located in Arizona on the Gila Indian reservation of the Pima tribe. Pima cotton became one of Arizona’s most important crops.

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Private exporting companies have told the Agriculture Department that the Soviet Union has bought an additional 450,000 metric tons of U.S. corn for delivery this year under a long-term supply agreement.

The corn is scheduled for delivery by Sept. 30, the end of the sixth year of a long-term grain supply agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Officials said Monday the latest sales boosted total U.S. corn and wheat sales to the Soviets in 1988-89 to a record level of nearly 19.9 million tons, including more than 15.5 million tons of corn and 4.31 million tons of wheat.

Additionally, sales include 443,400 tons of soybeans, 1.37 million tons of soybean meal and 807,400 tons of grain sorghum.

A metric ton is about 2,205 pounds and is equal to 39.4 bushels of corn or 36.7 bushels of wheat or soybeans. The 450,000 tons of corn would be about 17.7 million bushels.

Corn prices have been averaging about $2.58 per bushel at the farm level, according to the latest USDA five-day average, meaning the latest sale could have a farm value of around $46 million.

Wheat sales to the Soviet Union have been subsidized under the department’s Export Enhancement Program. But the corn and other commodities are not subsidized.

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