By Brad HaireUniversity of GeorgiaSeveral years ago, the quality reputation of Georgia cotton was in question. But a University of Georgia expert says it has improved.”There’s no doubt that Georgia’s cotton quality has gotten better,” said Don Shurley, a cotton economist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “The numbers can’t be argued.”Earlier this decade, some textile mills’ spokesmen reported that Georgia cotton didn’t run through their mills as well as cotton from other regions. Fiber lengths, consistency and strength were thought to be the problem. The problem received state and national media attention.Georgia farmers can lose about 5 cents per pound due to quality discounts, Shurley said. That added up to about $43 million in potential income in 2002.Concerned about Georgia’s cotton reputation, CAES scientists, along with the state’s cotton industry, began looking into the problem and educating farmers about it. Many things can affect overall cotton quality. And farmers can do things to help improve it. Harvest timing, variety choices, weather and insect damage are now believed to be the main contributors.Samples of each bale of cotton grown in Georgia are graded in several categories at the U.S. Department of Agriculture classing office in Macon, Ga. A bale is roughly 480 pounds of ginned lint.Shurley said Georgia’s grade for fiber length averaged 34.2 in 2003. That grade increased to 34.7 for both the ’04 and ’05 crops. A small point increase can reflect large quality improvements.Fiber strength improved, too, from a grade of 27.9 in 2003 to grades better than 29 for the past two years.”These grades have been as good as or better than cotton graded in other parts of the United States,” Shurley said.But farmers should be aware that Georgia’s fiber length consistency, or uniformity, is still a bit lower than other regions.Georgia cotton color, too, has been a little off what high-end buyers want to buy, Shurley said. But harvest timing and weather conditions affect color.Georgia farmers have started this month to plant the ’06 cotton crop. They are expected to plant 1.3 million acres, about 7 percent more than last year, according to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service. Harvest starts in October and runs through November.