USDA forecasts the current U.S. Pima crop at a record 703,000 bales, contrasted to 432,000 bales for 2003-04, and the Supima Association, as it observes its 50 years of promotional operations, is poised for a full global marketing campaign.

The hefty crop gain is attributed to higher estimated acreage, at 219,000, up sharply from last season’s 149,000, in California, the center of Pima production, along with generally more favorable growing conditions.

The USDA estimate of Aug. 12 set San Joaquin Valley production at 640,000 bales, vs. 370,500 from the cold and wet 2003 season. Even so, industry sources say the USDA forecast appears low and the actual SJV pima acreage could be as much as 250,000.

Forecasted production in the other three Pima-producing states, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, is 43,000, 14,000, and 6,000 bales, respectively. The previous record U.S. crop was 700,000 bales in 2001-02.

At a recent annual meeting near Coalinga, Calif., Supima officials detailed milestones, marketing strategies, and new consumption trends. Similar meetings were also held in Fabens, Texas, and Bakersfield, Calif.

William T. Lovelady, Tornillo, Texas, grower and association chairman, noted that California growers have transformed the Pima industry during the past 20 years.

From the establishment of the association in 1954 until 1984, he said, extra-long-staple production rarely exceeded 80,000 bales, most of it consumed by domestic mills. Any excess went into the CCC loan. Pima was under allotments, and exports were practically non-existent.

Perfect timing

"In 1983 the USDA Pima allotment program was ended, and about the same time the Supima Association initiated its first well-funded export promotion program. The timing could not have been more perfect," Lovelady recalled.

He said another major development was Supima’s forging of new relationships with Japanese and Swiss mills renown for their production of fine-count yarns. Interest quickly expanded to other high-quality spinners in Europe and Asia.

Arizona growers, in particular, responded with new Pima acreage, which reached nearly 250,000 acres in 1989 and 1990.

More importantly, he added, prices for American Pima went to the range of $1 to $1.50 per pound. California growers wanted to grow more Pima, and so did growers in Mississippi and Texas. While experiments with Pima in Mississippi and Texas were not successful, those in California were.

Along the way, Pima failed to be economical for most Arizona growers and production fell from 477,000 bales in 1989 to 16,000 bales in 2002. Pima growers in California were able to achieve more than 90 percent of their Acala yields with it, but their counterparts in Central Arizona did not see Pima yields beyond 75 percent of those of their upland varieties.

Lovelady said the dominance of California in the ELS market can be traced to the promotional activities of the association that helped move the increasing production. Lovelady, who served during 2002 to 2004, stepped down from the chairmanship and has been succeeded by Jim Hansen, Corcoran, Calif., grower.

Licensing expansion

Jesse Curlee, association president, who was recognized for his 25 years with the association, said among the chief accomplishments of the past year was expansion of the Supima licensing agreement, which was established about 10 years ago. Purchase of a license for $1,000 per year allows users of U.S. Pima to display the coveted Supima label on their wares.

Curlee reported there are 200 licensees in 41 countries, up from 152 licensees in 18 countries. China has 32 licensees, India has 27, and Pakistan has 18. Those three nations last year purchased more than 220,000 bales of U.S. Pima. Meanwhile, he added, one to five requests for licenses come in each week, but not all requests are granted.

"We believe the success of the program is due to our superior, stand-alone product. Pima is a rarity, since it makes up only 3 percent of the cotton grown in the U.S. Our label is exclusive, and those who use it must have a certain quality and a high reputation. These are important in the textile industry, where it is vital to differentiate the product."

Second label

Another label, USA Pima, was developed during the past couple of years for mass-merchandisers, such as J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart, who, although they represent large volumes, are not approved for the Supima label.

Curlee said consumer advertising through textile trade publications, although limited, remains a prominent part of the association’s budget. A companion effort, attendance at key international trade shows creates opportunities for making new contacts among textile, apparel, and home furnishings industries.

The voluntary association charges its approximately 1,000 producer-members an assessment of $3 per bale, collected through first handlers. About 80 percent of eligible growers contribute, and Curlee said the participation would ideally be close to 95 percent. The association is working on positive steps to increase the number who contribute.

He noted that the board has great confidence in the returns from trade consumer advertising and has been willing to sustain deficit budgets the past three years to continue it. Shortfalls, including nearly $1 million last year, are being made up from reserves accumulated when the association was in the certified seed business.

Also of benefit to growers were two other developments, "freezing" of the loan and initiation of the Step 2 program. He said Step 2 has meant nearly $100 million to the Pima industry in the past two years.

Marc Lewkowitz, Supima’s executive vice president, said California’s projected yields of 1,403 pounds per acre this season would not have been imagined a few years ago.

Exports of American Pima for the 2004-05, according to USDA, will be 575,000 bales, which is up from 538,000 last season but less than the 634,000 of 2002-03.

Largest consumers

The six largest consumers of American Pima in 2003-04, he said, represent 71 percent of the total and are Pakistan (94,000 bales), China (82,000), Japan (68,800), Indonesia (62,400), India (44,600), and Peru (29,900). The remainder of the world took 156,400 bales.

According to Buxton Midyette, New York marketing director for Supima, their new advertising campaign seeks to position American Pima at the top of all cotton fabrics in the marketplace.

The New York Times’ Sunday magazine has been used for Supima advertising to attract not only fashion-conscious consumers but also apparel designers and retailers. The ads reach 3.1 million consumers in the New York area.

Last fall a survey done with House Beautiful magazine showed that 72 percent of some 2,000 respondents view Supima as a luxury item.

"That’s right on target for us," Midyette said, "because everyday luxury has become quite popular with marketing people. A lot of consumers have become aware of Supima through sheets and towels, and now they’d like to have it in apparel as well."