By Shawn Wade

Plains Cotton Growers, Inc.

With the 2002 "on again-off again" harvest season temporarily stopped as another cold front moves through the Texas High Plains, a picture of the crop may be starting to emerge.

The good news for producers is that yield estimates continue to hold up and the area is on the brink of harvesting one of the better crops ever recorded. In fact, if serious harvest complications can be avoided, the area looks like it can match the 3.19-million-bale estimate released by the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service.

Obviously, weather will be the deciding factor on what kind of crop 2002 turns out to be. The area's recent inclination toward planting slightly longer season, picker type varieties could be an Achille's heel, in terms of overall yield, due to the lessened "stormproofness" of some varieties, as well as the potential quality deterioration that occurs the longer the crop remains in the field.

Early U.S. Department of Agriculture Cotton Classing office reports show some quality characteristics are falling in areas too close to triggering higher loan discounts than many growers would like to think about.

Color grades continue to be the strength of the crop with 79% of the 180,000-plus bales classed in Lubbock grading Color Grade 31 or better. In a similar vein, 81% of the cotton classed at the USDA Classing office in Lamesa has been called a Color 31 or better.

Strength at the Lubbock office is averaging a healthy 29 grams per tex. Cotton classed in Lamesa is averaging 29.2 grams per tex.

On the scary side is the fact that micronaire could become an issue, even though the crop classed so far has averaged a reasonable 4.5. The scary thing about the mike readings to date, at least in the Lubbock office, is that about 10% of the bales are testing at 5.0 or higher. Hopefully, as more and more of the higher yielding irrigated cotton starts moving through that figure will trend downward and keep the bulk of the crop comfortably within the premium mike range.

As noted earlier, the weather and its associated impacts will in large part determine how the 2002 crop hits the record books. So far, things haven't gone as smoothly as anyone would have liked. Relatively open weather should allow producers to get the bulk of the crop out of the field before Thanksgiving rolls around.

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