Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service cotton economist John Robinson recently toured what he calls ‘the West Texas of China,’ trekking to southern Xinjiang to get a first-hand look at farming and harvesting practices.

The result of his two-week trip abroad was a collection of observations — views of farming practices and other insights — that will serve as aids in forecasting cotton trends for Texas and U.S. farmers, plus help determine potential worldwide demand.

“Cotton is obviously king there,” he said. “They’re trying to diversify the region’s agriculture by growing more ‘jujubee’ orchards — sort of like a date, potatoes and other (crops).”

He said there is little transportation system in place, observing carts that are typically used for onions and other commodities being hauled.

“If I had to guess I’d say that Xinjiang is probably like West Texas in that it will be the last bastion of domestic Chinese cotton production,” he said “They have to overcome problems with saline soils, and lack of labor, and the cost of hauling cotton bales from there to the eastern portion of China. One way they’re dealing with the latter is trying to establish more cotton spinning and cloth/apparel (towels) manufactured locally in Xinjiang.”

In Xinjiang, it is “incredibly dry and is much like West Texas,” Robinson said.

“Everything is irrigated, and the irrigation system appears to be a system of canals tapping into reservoirs of snow-melt water from the nearby mountains,” he said. 

“I saw a few instances of visible white salt on the soil surface; it was obvious they have a soil salinity problem.”

Most of the fields he viewed had been harvested, mostly by hand.