Each year, Cotton Incorporated (CI) picks the minds of a group of farmers, Extension, research and industry folks to create a list of must-do research topics. From that list come the ideas aimed at making the growing and manufacturing of cotton products more profitable.

“Agriculture research is one of the most important programs at Cotton Incorporated,” J. Berrye Worsham, president and CEO, told a group of cotton growers visiting the organization's world headquarters in North Carolina. Of the $63 million annual budget at CI, more than 11 percent is invested in research directly related to ag research. Add in fiber quality, fiber management and textile research and the total approaches 28 percent of the annual budget.

Growers and importers of cotton support the organization through assessments. Two-thirds of its budget comes from growers; importers contribute the other third of the budget.

CI's research takes the fiber from the field to the fabric and beyond, says Don Bailey, vice president of textile research and implementation. “The cotton industry pipeline begins with the producers, moves to the ginners, merchants, spinners, fabric manufacturers, converters and retailers and ultimately ends with the consumer.”

The process begins in the field.

From the field, the research is geared toward practical, in-field applications aimed at helping farmers turn a profit. The most recent ag research summit generated ideas about pressing topics for today's cotton producer, says Bill Lalor, vice president of agricultural research at CI.

At the top of that list was yield and quality, variety improvement and production costs.

“The quality part over the last three or four years is due more to climate than anything else,” Lalor says. The group also addressed production economics, in other words, ideas to lower the cost of production in the field. They also cited the importance of testing new technology in the field. Lalor told the group of producers that biotechnology needs to be tested in the “real world of the grower” in order to give him the best possible benefit.

Lalor also told the group of efforts to improve varieties. Cotton breeders in the U.S. continue to work with the collection of all varieties grown in the country, as well as introduce quality and resistant traits from wild species. The collection of all cotton that has been grown in the U.S. is housed at College Station by Texas A&M University.

“That's where we will get the resistance to nematodes and improve quality traits,” Lalor says. “We also have to use the new tools, such as molecular biology, to make the process more precise.” He pointed to a move to “improve the germplasm.”

Among the other research topics are pest management, irrigation management, plant nutrient management and computer-aided management systems for farmers, ginners and millers.

Not surprisingly, ginning and fiber quality was among the leading topics the group recommended as a priority area of research. Fiber quality plays a major role in the Uniformity Index, Lalor says.

Through contracts, cooperative agreements, partnerships and in-house research, CI works to find “ways to make cotton stronger in the marketplace,” Bailey told the growers. “A lot of times we're not able to talk about what we are doing until we determine if it's in the best interest of cotton.” One such beneficial partnership between CI and Proctor and Gamble promotes the use of Tide on cotton fabrics through the use of the Cotton Seal.

In-house at CI's world headquarters in Cary, N.C., fiber quality research is done at three, in-house labs. Textile research and implementation is conducted at nine labs, Bailey says.

Over the years, CI has stressed the growing importance of having the equipment to conduct first-rate cotton and textile research, beginning with the building of a dyeing house in 1976.

The move to a new world headquarters in Cary only strengthens the message of cotton, Bailey says. “The new world headquarters sends out a statement that this research company is here to stay.”

e-mail: cecil_yancy@intertec.com