By  on June 12, 2007

GREENVILLE, S.C. — The future of the U.S. cotton industry hinges on its ability to present itself as the world's quality commodity player.

Even as global demand for cotton keeps rising, the U.S. industry faces mounting challenges ranging from increased global competition to farmers abandoning cotton for more profitable crops.

More than 150 farmers, ginners, researchers and scientists gathered here last week for Cotton Incorporated's 20th annual EFS System Conference to discuss the state of the cotton market and how to ensure the future viability of the domestic industry. EFS, which stands for Engineered Fiber Selection, is a software package introduced in 1982 that allows qualities of a cotton bale to be quickly analyzed and evaluated, allowing for the production of a more uniform product.

S. Louie Perry Jr., chairman of Cotton Inc., opened the two-day conference by stressing the need to quickly adapt to the quickening pace of globalization. To accomplish this, he said farmers and ginners must look beyond their traditional roles and develop a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of the supply chain.

"We were minding our own business without any real understanding of how one link of the supply chain affects the other," Perry said of the cotton industry 20 years ago. "Today, we can't just mind our own business without minding the business of the whole industry."

Perry addressed external issues that pose a threat to the industry.

"We also have a host of new and exotic fibers that are capturing the attention of manufacturers and consumers alike," he said. "We have waged a good battle over the last year in dispelling myths about the negative environmental impact of conventionally grown cotton and we intend to support that initiative."

The 2006-2007 crop year has been a tough one for cotton on several fronts, said Mark Messura, executive vice president of global product supply chain at Cotton Inc. The booming interest in alternative fuels, particularly ethanol, has seen farmers plant corn rather than cotton. As a result, cotton plantings are expected to decline 20 percent and production to fall 13 percent, he said.

More troubling is a dip in cotton exports to China. The U.S. has been China's primary cotton supplier over the last 10 years, typically supplying 50 percent of that nation's imported cotton, he said. That's changed this year.

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