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Cotton acreage still up in the air but prospects improved

Texas High Plains crop production supports 103000 jobs
<p> Texas High Plains crop production supports 103,000 jobs.</p>
Recent upticks in cotton prices and recent precipitation across a good portion of cotton country may have moved the few acres back into the cotton column. But a lot of uncertainty remains, Weather and markets are key factors.

With planting season still weeks away for most of the Southwest cotton crop, farmers are keeping one eye on the weather and one on the market as they try to determine the best crop mix for 2013.

Recent upticks in cotton prices and recent precipitation across a good portion of cotton country may have moved the few acres back into the cotton column. But a lot of uncertainty remains, according to cotton specialists.

Texas AgriLife Extension’s Gaylon Morgan doesn’t believe a National Cotton Council estimate of a 25-percent reduction in Texas cotton acreage will “come to fruition because of the changes in cotton versus grain markets.

“Cotton prices rebounded considerably in February and set a better safety net price for cotton. Some soil moisture also will make folks more optimistic about the 2013 season, and I suspect this will lend folks to plant more cotton than previously planned.”

The past few years may also have a lingering, negative effect on some growers. Some farmers, said Morgan, “have had a couple of bad years in cotton and are considering a change. And South Texas folks have already planted corn and/or sorghum.”

Other areas could see a few more cotton acres. “I think cotton will take back some of the crop acreage from previously expected grain acreage in the Rolling Plains and West Texas. In the Blacklands and South Texas, I do not expect much difference from previous predictions (a month or two ago) in cotton acreage.”

Producers in the Rolling Plains, West Texas, and the High Plains “still have the flexibility (time and seed options) to move to cotton.”

The High Plains has benefitted from recent rainfall, which could coax a few more acres back to cotton. Mary Jane Buerkle, media director for Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., says conditions so far are better than they were at this time in recent years.

“We've had more rainfall and snowfall these past few months than during this time in previous years, and some areas are in fairly good shape right now, but that certainly isn't true for the entire High Plains,” she noted.

A little moisture provides a bit of optimism. So does an upward trend in the market. “Having a little more moisture in the ground in some areas and a cotton market that seems to be on the uptick could certainly bode well for cotton, although it's still a little early to tell the true impact,” she said. “We aren't expecting as much of an acreage shift on the High Plains as in other parts of the Cotton Belt; we expect to see anywhere from 3.7 to 4 million acres of cotton planted here in 2013, which actually is around our five-year average.” 

John Robison, Texas AgriLife Extension cotton marketing specialist, says a good bit of uncertainty still exists for cotton acreage. “Historically the NCC estimate tracks fairly closely with what is surveyed by USDA in March and again in June.

“However, some years there is as much as a 10 percent to 15 percent change from the NCC number to the June number, for the same kinds of reasons that we might see this year: changes in relative prices between cotton and feedgrains, and drought.”

Drought conditions generally tend to favor cotton in Texas (with uncertain outcome for production). 2011 is the most extreme example. “NCC measured something close to what USDA measured in March (6 million acres planted in Texas),” he said. “Then the June number showed 7 million planted in Texas.” Growers actually harvested 3.2 million

The reason for that drop was farmers’ response to ongoing, extreme drought. “I know we’ve had some moisture accumulation, but I think most folks are in the mindset of it being what it is: relatively dry, as reflected by Growers I talked to recently in San Angelo were in that frame of mind,” Robinson said. “I haven’t visited with anybody around Lubbock in a few weeks. Anyway, as always, we will see.

Randall Conner, executive director Southern Rolling Plains Cotton Growers Association, Inc., said his area missed the recent rains that aided other areas. Consequently, the wheat crop remains in jeopardy.

“The higher temperatures and lack of rain is beginning to take a toll on wheat,” Connor said. “Cotton markets are improving some, so that is a plus. If some of the wheat is taken out and lack of moisture discourages grain sorghum, then we may be back to more cotton acres. At this point, everything seems to be still up in the air.”

Randy Boman, Oklahoma state University Extension cotton specialist, says Oklahoma farmers “have had some badly needed precipitation, but not enough.  We still have had no runoff to help fill Lake Altus.”

Better markets offer a bit of optimism to cotton producers, he says.  “Cotton prices have improved since January, and the prospects of a wheat failure have somewhat diminished with the recent rain.  However, we will have to have considerable additional moisture to make a wheat crop.  Some producers in the Altus area are opting out of wheat and are terminating that with Roundup at this time, with plans to go back to cotton.’

 Crop insurance issues, once again, will be important.  “I have heard that some folks plan to rotate out of cotton and perhaps plant grain sorghum in 2013.  If someone put me under duress, I would probably estimate our acreage between 200,000  and 250,000 in 2013.”

But drought still lingers and casts a pall over planting intentions.  “We are headed into a third year of failure in the Irrigation District around Altus, which is unprecedented.  Many of our groundwater-sourced irrigation systems are also under duress.  We are optimistic that we can make a cotton crop wherever it’s planted, but it doesn’t look very promising at this time.”

Boman says the far southwest corner of Okla. “is still painted by the Exceptional Drought Category,  but at least the recent precipitation lifted some spirits and kept the wheat going.  It will “run out of gas” soon if we miss this week’s precipitation chances.”



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