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Analysts project 14.1-million-bale cotton crop

U.S. cotton production could slip to about 14.1 million bales this fall, which would be the lowest production since 1998, say crop analysts from the four major cotton-producing regions of the United States.

The estimate is slightly higher than USDA’s July estimate of 14 million bales, and down from last year’s estimate of 19.21 million bales. Speaking at the Cotton Roundtable, held in late July at the Intercontinental Exchange in New York City, analysts said dry weather continues its assault on dryland cotton in Texas and parts of the Mid-South and Southeast.

O.A. Cleveland, professor emeritus, Mississippi State University, says cotton area in the Southeast and Mid-South continues to decline and the two regions “don’t carry the significance they once did. Planting is down in the Southeast about 17 percent, and in the Mid-South about 30 percent, meaning about 366,000 acres fewer will be harvested in the Southeast and 800,000 acres fewer in the Mid-South.

“Based on conditions of the crop, we’re looking at a drop of 2 million bales from last year, when both regions combined produced about 8.5 million bales.”

Cleveland noted that Alabama is still in the throes of a long-term drought. Carolina and Georgia have had decent weather and those crops are doing fairly well, and yields should average around 700 pounds an acre.

“The Arkansas crop still looks like it will break 1,000 pounds per acre. Mississippi has been a bit dry and that crop has been reduced. Tennessee and Missouri have both had good weather and they’re looking at 900 pounds per acre.”

Carl Anderson, Extension specialist, professor emeritus, Texas A&M University, said the Southwest region of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas has the potential to produce about 6.5 million bales of cotton this year.

About 95 percent of Southwest production will come from Texas, which isn’t expected to come close to the surprising crop of 2007, when Texas produced 8.25 million bales on 4.7 million acres. “The average yields last year of 843 pounds across the state are phenomenal compared to 10 years ago. The weather was ideal, and only 200,000 acres were abandoned. Texas growers also have a sizable 1-ton club, growers who produce 4 bales per acre of lint on at least 20 acres.”

In 2008, Texas yields are expected to be above average, Anderson says. “However, because of dry planting conditions, high winds, blowing sand, hail and extremely hot temperatures at planting time, I’m estimating that 900,000 acres to 1 million acres of the 4.7 million acres planted have been abandoned.

“About half of the remaining 3.7 million acres is irrigated, and has a high yield potential. Roughly, we have about 300,000 acres in Texas under drip irrigation and have the possibility of making 3 bales per acre.”

Anderson noted that USDA’s weekly crop condition report “has shown for the past month that one-third of the Texas crop is in poor or very condition, one-third fair and one-third, good to excellent.”

Despite the estimated million or so acres lost, Anderson expects this year’s harvest to be 6.2 million bales. “Because of dry weather, cotton is stressed in south Texas, the Coastal Bend and the Blacklands. Hurricane Dolly came in on the south Texas end and probably lowered the yield and quality down there somewhat on about 100,000 acres.

“We think yields in these areas of Texas will be way below average. As we move into the Rolling Plains, cotton is doing okay due to recent rains. Cotton in the southern High Plains has also improved with recent scattered rains. Part of the crop, however, is a little late and will need warm weather in September and early October to reach full maturity.

“In Oklahoma, growers planted 15,000 more acres than they did last year, so they have a total of 190,000 acres and their crop is doing rather well. In Kansas, producers planted only 45,000 acres this year, compared to 115,000 acres two years ago. They are shifting acres to wheat.”

Jarral Neeper, vice president, marketing Calcot Ltd., Bakersfield, Calif., said a very dry winter in California pushed cotton producers into other crops because they couldn’t justify the high water costs of cotton. “In some cases, they just couldn’t get the crop planted at all.”

As a result, upland cotton acres in California fell about 45 percent and Pima acreage fell about 30 percent, Neeper said. “What’s out there looks pretty good right now. We’re not going to have a great year like we had last year when we had record yields across the board. But this year is going to be an average to above average.”

Neeper said Arizona’s crop “was looking a little shaky to begin with, but now it’s coming on strong. They are looking at a potentially good year. Overall, the crops in both states will probably be down about 900,000 bales from last year. Together the states will have about 1.1 million bales compared to 2 million bales this time a year ago.”

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