Maintaining the new farm bill in its current form through 2005 “will be a battle,” but it “can and must be done for the U.S. cotton industry,” says William Dunavant, who heads the world's largest cotton marketing firm at Memphis.

Other countries, particularly in South America and Africa, “are going to continue to attack us on the farm bill because they say we're attempting to destroy, with low prices, their potential for developing their own agricultural future,” he said at the annual Beltwide Cotton Conferences at Nashville, Tenn.

Despite expected “repeated attempts to change and challenge the bill,” he says he feels “it will survive,” and expressed appreciation to the National Cotton Council for its “tremendous job in working for the industry.” He particularly singled out retiring Council president and chief executive officer Gaylon Booker for his service to the seven segments of the cotton industry. “He has been a friend,” Dunavant said, “and I appreciate that.”

Dunavant says it also is of “vast importance” that every effort be made to maintain the U.S. textile industry, which has been decimated by a flood of imported products.

Government Step 2 payments are helping the industry to “modestly compete” with China and other countries that are exporting textiles to the U.S.

“I think one thing the government can do to help the industry is to better regulate textile imports. I feel very strongly there is a lot of cheating by some exporting countries and there are definitely illegal textile products coming into the U.S.”

Man-made fibers, chiefly polyester, will increasingly compete with cotton for market share, Dunavant says.

“We project that this season world man-made fiber consumption will be 158 million to 161 million bale equivalents, up significantly from 139 million bale equivalents just five years ago.”

The price for premium polyester fiber in the U.S. is 58 cents per pound, he notes; in China, it's only 48 cents, “and they have capacity to produce a tremendous volume.” In Korea, polyester costs only 44 cents per pound.

Although cheap cotton prices have pressured man-made fiber the past two seasons, Dunavant says, “Our projections show man-made fiber consumption will continue to grow. It is the major competitor for cotton.”

e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com