Supima promotion more aggressive

In the wake of USDA's August forecast of a U.S. Pima crop of 593,000 bales, half again as much as last year, the Supima Association of America revealed strategies to promote the new crop in the marketplace.

In Coalinga, Calif., at one of the group's annual meetings, Jesse Curlee, association president, told some 130 growers and others Supima competitors recognize the American producer can grow Pima cotton of better quality at a lower price than anyone in the world.

He said the Phoenix-based association will promote American Pima in a multiple outreach. “First, we will continue direct mail contacts, the heart of Supima. Here is where we really try hard to develop relationships with textile mills and their customers, the apparel manufacturers and retailers. We also try to visit every customer at least once a year, either at their location or our office,” he said.

The association will continue licensing of the Supima logo, at a fee of $1,000 per year. “The benefit,” Curlee said, “is when we license someone to use the Supima trademark, the product has to be made entirely of American Pima cotton grown by a member of the association. That prevents mills from using Egyptian or other extra long staple cotton.

Among the 28 domestic licensees, are Eddie Bauer, Ralph Lauren, and many labels less recognizable, and the list is growing. Abroad, 68 manufacturers, representing all nations which buy American Pima, are in the program.

Curlee said the licensing fee idea sprang from the nearly daily inquiries about Supima licensing the staff had to field. “Because of the time we are putting into this and the legal costs involved, we decided to charge a $1,000 annual fee for a license. We were apprehensive about the amount, since we didn't know how much to charge at first, but virtually no one has stopped being a licensee because of the annual fee.”

Trade shows regular

Another activity, intensified in the last five years, is participation in trade shows, such as Heimtex in Germany or Interstoff Asia, where the association staff sees many clients at a single location. The association links with Cotton Council International and Cotton Incorporated at these events.

Although prospects for the Pima crop are good this year, the textile industry is depressed. “The U.S. textile industry is in crisis and in the worst shape of any time in the last 30 to 40 years. Fifty plants have closed this year alone, a number closed in 2000 and more are on the brink of closing. Textile industry employment is down 10 percent, or more than 60,000 jobs, and fiber consumption is down 30 percent,” he said.

Domestic consumption of Pima has risen from about 70,000 bales about 10 years ago to 120,000 bales. Although American cotton is being used, much of the manufacturing has moved abroad.

Curlee was optimistic about exports, noting some 200,000 bales are committed, while many customers hold until Egyptian prices are revealed.

Growers will likely agree, he said, that the major improvement needed for the cotton industry is to narrow the wide spread between prices of Pima and San Joaquin Valley cotton.

“This is not great for Pima. It's good we have a strong price, but over time, when the price differential is so great, mills will be tempted to make goods from Upland rather than cotton that may cost twice as much.”

Curlee said the association has taken out trade advertisements to counter Egyptian overtures to the home fashions market. “We felt we had to get out the facts about our Pima cotton and the facts about Egyptian cotton. One is that all the Egyptian cotton sold is not extra-long staple.”

He praised catalog merchant Lands End for doing more than any other to promote Supima to the public over the years. The Swiss spinning company Buhler also promotes Supima, using the logo on its business cards.

To augment the advertising by its clients, the association is shopping for an agency to handle a three-year ad program in various home magazines.

The campaign will also help blunt the emergence of government-supported logos from both Egypt and China, who seek to imitate Supima's success via trade publication ads.

Tranquillity, Calif., grower John Pucheu, Jr. was recognized at the conclusion of his three-year term. The new chairman is Bill Lovelady, a grower from Tornillo, near El Paso, Texas, current vice chairman, and former chairman of the National Cotton Council.

Noting the association is involved in more than its primary focus of promotion, Pucheu said legislation for a Step 2 entitlement for Pima cleared the U.S. House Ag Committee for debate in the House the first week of September. He said the association seeks to get a similar bill through the Senate.

Another goal is maintaining the Pima loan and ensuring it has a floor. “In the 1996 farm bill, our loan was capped at 79.65 cents, which values grade 2, 1-7/16-inch even, at about 82 cents a pound. But unlike Upland cotton, Pima did not have a floor. The average loan cannot go higher under the present farm bill, but it can go lower.”

Both issues are important to Pima growers, he said, to provide a safety net for growers during these difficult times.

Matt Laughlin, Supima executive vice president, said the Pima industry, which entered world markets in the mid-1980s, showed it can react to the world market and produce 500,000 to 600,000 bales for export, although it could produce more. He predicted California will continue to supply about 90 percent of the U.S. Pima output.

World production of extra-long staple cotton is responding this year to a 32 percent stocks-to-use ratio, the lowest in six years. The International Cotton Advisory Committee predicts a new crop of 3.04 million bales, the largest since 1993, and off-take for the 2000/2001 marketing year is expected to be more 3.1 million bales, the highest in eight years.

Egyptian crop

Egypt is expected to produce a total ELS output of about 450,000 bales, close to the 460,000 forecast for U.S. Pima exports and building a stage for aggressive marketing.

American Pima lint, cleaner than the handpicked Egyptian growths, has some advantage, but the Egyptians will be highly competitive because of narrowing prices between their Giza 70 class cotton and American Pima. The high-quality Egyptian fiber once brought a premium of 15 to 20 cents more per pound, but last year the lead shrank to about five cents, Laughlin said.

Another issue for the industry is feeding of Pima seed, hampered by fears of gossypol toxicity to dairy animals. Steve Carnes, Supima's director of field services, said reports documenting the practice as safe will be released soon for publication in dairy and feed publications.

In 1999 the association committed $225,000 to research nutrient and chemical composition of Pima seed in a series of projects by the University of California, Texas A&M University, and USDA. The overall effort was the largest investigation of Pima seed and dairy cows ever done.

“We know that Pima seed is as good as, if not better than fuzzy (Upland) seed, in most cases,” said Carnes. “The best thing we found was none of the cows died from gossypol poisoning. The recommended level is four pounds of Pima seed per day.”

The controversy over feeding Pima seed stemmed from cow deaths in El Paso, after Pima seed was fed to them at rates of up to 12 pounds per day.

Carnes said the association's next step will be promotion of feeding Pima seed and educating nutritionists and dairymen about the practice.

USDA reports say California Pima growers have 204,000 acres, although other estimates range to more than 230,000. USDA forecasts California yields at 1,271 pounds, up from the 1,109-pound average of the past five years. California growers say, despite weather reversals at planting, many late-planted fields have since caught up in maturity.

Other Pima acreage estimates are: Texas, 17,000; New Mexico, 7,000; and Arizona, 6,000.

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