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A New Crop on the West Texas Horizon

Can Pima make a case for West Texas cotton acres?

by Jayci Bishop

Centered in the Cotton Belt, West Texas is widely known for producing millions of Upland cotton bales. However, Pima cotton recently started appearing on farms throughout the High Plains and Rolling Plains of Texas.

Rising enthusiasm for Pima cotton production caused Maple Co-op Gin to construct the area’s first roller gin for the 2020 crop. Before the 2020 crop, just under 15,000 acres of Pima cotton were planted predominantly near the El Paso area. Of the 38,000 planted acres of 2020 Pima cotton in Texas, only 11,000 were in the El Paso region. The remaining acres were scattered throughout the 5.4 million cotton acres in Texas’ High Plains and Rolling Plains. Marvin McCaul, Gin Manager of Maple Co-op since 1983, said they had a few growers decide to grow Pima cotton for a couple of years, and they watched it closely. Once the co-op realized that it was a viable option in this area, they decided to install a roller gin.

Marvin McCaul Maple Co-op Gin Manager“We had extra ginning capacity and there was a need for it,” McCaul said. “Pima growers were hauling their Pima harvest long distances to places like Las Cruces or El Paso, and it was costing them a fortune. We thought Pima was going to make and it did two years in a row. So, we thought we would invest in a roller gin and see if we could make it work.”

David Canale, PCCA Director of Pima Marketing, said Maple Co-op Gin’s decision has helped increase interest in Pima in this area.

“Pima has been grown in this area in very small amounts for years,” Canale said. “In the past, growers experimented with maybe 5-10 acres because of the higher loan value and to see what it would do. Pima loses loan eligibility and any price premium if it is stripper harvested and saw ginned, which was all that was available in this area. With more pickers as well as a roller gin now available, it has increased interest.”

Today, Maple Co-op Gin operates two gin plants – one of which is a roller gin. McCaul said there are differences between managing a saw gin and a roller gin.

“It is a slow process,” McCaul said. “It is a lot different than the saw gin. It takes time, and these gin stands are not as fast, so we have to run several of them to get that kind of volume. We plan to add more roller gin stands this year.”

The infrastructure improvements played a role in the rise in Pima acres, but the price growers can receive for their crop is appealing to growers. McCaul sees Pima gaining attention as an economically and agronomically feasible Upland alternative.

“It seems to do well here on the Plains. It grades well, too,” McCaul said. “Probably the biggest thing about it is just the loan value alone is about 90 cents. In years past, that is almost double the value you will receive for Upland cotton in the loan. That price is really attractive if you are able to grow it for the same input costs. This cotton is non-GMO, so it is all conventional. They have to plow and not spray chemicals over the top, which can be difficult. It also needs water, but if they can make two bales to the acre at that loan value, it can be a good alternative.”

Canale said this is a good time for Pima cotton with the current market conditions. “This is an exciting time for Pima as prices have rebounded from the depressed levels we have witnessed the past few years,” Canale said. “Pima is a niche market, and it was affected more than Upland cotton by the trade war between the U.S. and China. The coronavirus pandemic shutdowns also weighed on prices in 2020. Production has fallen the past few years in the U.S. and worldwide, and with lower spinner inventories, prices have improved immensely.”

Like most Upland cotton produced in this area, Pima cotton is exported to other countries.

“Pima is spun worldwide, but the main users are India, China, Pakistan, and Egypt,” Canale said. “Typically, these four countries represent roughly 85 percent of worldwide consumption. Pakistan is the only large user that does not produce Pima. On the other hand, the U.S., Egypt, and China account for 90 percent of worldwide production. Egypt, like the U.S., is a net exporter and the main com- petition for American Pima exports.”

What is Pima cotton?

Pima is an Extra-Long Staple (ELS) cotton variety. ELS cotton is recognized for cotton that has a minimum fiber length of 1-3/8”, 34.925 mm or measured in 32nds is 44 staple or longer. For simplicity, PCCA uses the term Pima. Pima cotton differs from Upland not only in physical characteristics like length and strength but also in harvesting and ginning. Whereas most upland cotton in PCCA’s area is stripped and saw ginned, Pima is picked and roller ginned. If Pima cotton is stripped and saw ginned, it is loan ineligible, and its value is greatly diminished.

What is a roller gin?

A roller gin uses a rotary knife to separate the seed from the lint in the ginning process, and it is primarily used to gin Pima cotton.

What products are made with Pima cotton?

Pima is typically used in luxury apparel and home goods, such as sheets and towels. It is a long staple, high-strength fiber which allows goods made from it to be softer and more durable than the same goods made with a shorter fiber.

How do you market Pima cotton?

Marketing channels are similar to Upland cotton but are also very different. Pima represents just over one percent of all cotton produced globally, making it a niche market. There are not futures or options markets for Pima, which means there isn’t an effective hedging strategy for Pima cotton.

Does PCCA offer a marketing option for Pima cotton?

Yes, PCCA is offering a Pima Marketing Pool to growers this year. For more information or to enroll your production, contact PCCA at 806-763-8011.