Pounds in the basket get farmers excited about a cotton crop because that's how they get paid, but they can't ignore the signals from buyers that fiber quality will play a bigger role in the size of their paychecks, says Steve Brown, a University of Georgia Extension cotton specialist.

“Farmers get paid for yield,” Brown said during a panel discussion during a meeting at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences.

He says the idea that farmers can grow higher quality fiber and get paid for it has generated “a lot of discussion and we get mixed signals.”

Brown fears that a shifted emphasis on quality could hurt Georgia farmers who have been criticized for producing lower quality fiber. He's concerned that the reputation may prevent Georgia and Southeastern growers from “being paid for (quality cotton) even when we produce better cotton. Other areas in the Belt are growing quality cotton and getting paid for it,” he says.

A 31-3-35 fiber and better has become a standard, he says. That benchmark becomes even more important with from ¼ to ¼ of the U.S. cotton crop exported.

Brown says growers can take some of the responsibility for producing better cotton.

“Variety selection is the first step,” he says. But he recommends going beyond research plot evaluations to judge cotton fiber quality. He recommends growers track modules, identified by variety, through the gin and have the ginner provide quality ratings for those modules.

“That's the best real world data you can get — straight from the gin,” he says. “See where those varieties came from and compare them to other fields or to a neighbor's cotton.”