Gill Pias has an excellent crop in places and a poor crop in others. The Bunkie, La., cotton producer was in the upper Southeast at the end of August on a tour of Cotton Incorporated's research facilities in Cary, N.C., with other producers from the Mid-South.

Coming off an excellent year, both price-wise and yield-wise, Pias has faced too little rain and too much rain this season.

“We went from excessive rain to drought,” says the Louisiana producer who also grows sugarcane and soybeans. A rain in mid-August was the first he'd seen in almost two months.

At the world headquarters of Cotton Incorporated, the group of Mid-South producers heard innovations that will help them stay profitable.

They also heard reports on the 2004 crop that is just now beginning to be ginned. Charles Chewning, Cotton Incorporated director of fiber management research, says the first reports coming out of Corpus Christi indicate fiber of good quality crop. As of Aug. 12, some 179,000 bales had been classed. The mean micronaire levels were 4.49; strength, 31.7; and uniformity, 82. Length for that period was reported to be also good. The average grade was 82. “These are good numbers,” Chewning says.

He told the group that growing more pounds is not the answer for the future. “You need to grow cotton that the foreign market wants to buy.” Outside the United States, traditional ring spinning, which requires a longer staple cotton, predominates.

“Unless things change, we're going to need to grow a quality cotton that can be sold on the export market,” Chewning says.

In the U.S., the consumer drives the decisions that are made at the retail level, says Dean Turner, vice president of global marketing. “The retailers will sell what the consumer demands.”

Out of his New York City office, Ira Livingston directs the consumer marketing group that includes advertising. The senior vice president of consumer marketing has been with Cotton Incorporated since 1975.

At the meeting of Mid-South producers, Livingston showed the new Cotton Incorporated commercials that are airing this year. Cotton Incorporated spends more than $23 million on advertising each year. Some 4,166 TV spots aired in 2003.

The new campaign, which includes seven commercials, is a “little edgier than before,” Livingston says. “The Fabric of Our Lives was important for baby boomers, but now we're dealing with a new generation.”

The Consumer Marketing group contains four divisions, which includes fashion marketing. “We can tell you what you'll be wearing in 2006,” Livingston quipped. “It keeps cotton at the forefront of fashion.”

He also discussed the Joy of Shopping campaign, which promotes the new Web site, the Joyofshopping.com, where consumers can shop for cotton and cotton-rich apparel and products.

In the textile research and implementation department, Cotton Incorporated vice president Don Bailey works to create corporate initiatives that will introduce fabric innovations to the market. “We're focused on reducing processing costs, increasing quality, improving production rates and promoting new technology,” Bailey says.

Working with Dan River Mills in Virginia, Cotton Incorporated found a way to reduce cost of producing yarn.

The Women's Wear Initiative developed 52 new fabrics in 2004. Other projects include a finish on denim to make the material last longer, colorfastness, flame retardant fabrics and stain-repellent fabrics.

Closer to the field, Roy Cantrell, vice president of agricultural research, discussed the cotton variety improvement initiative. “We have promising germplasm about two years away from release. In about five to seven years, we could have nematode resistance.

“We're making much faster progress with this project than anyone realized,” Cantrell says.

e-mail: cyancy@primediabusiness.com