U.S. cotton farmers are on pace to produce a 17.68 million bale crop this season, according to current estimates from a panel of analysts speaking at the Ag Market Network’s annual Cotton Roundtable in New York City.
According to Extension specialist emeritus Carl Anderson, the Texas crop condition is much better than a year ago. “Following three years of drought, timely rains from late May up to mid-July have saved the west Texas 3.5-million-acre dryland crop from another major disaster. The roughly 2 million acres of irrigated cotton is doing exceptionally well.”
Anderson said the west Texas dryland crop “is off to a late start and needs timely rain and warm temperatures until mid-October. Most of the area is short on both topsoil and subsoil moisture. The crop needs sunshine and favorable daytime temperatures.”
According to USDA’s Texas cotton crop condition index, the crop is rated as 8 percent very poor, 15 percent poor, 40 percent fair, 27 percent good and 10 percent excellent. “Fortunately, in July most of the west Texas area is receiving much needed rainfall. In the Coastal Bend area and the Blacklands area of south Texas, where some of the most productive dryland exists, cotton is in above average condition.”
Anderson says cotton harvest is underway in south Texas, with quality expected to be excellent.
“Because of limited subsoil moisture, localized storms, and persistent weed problems, I estimate about 20 percent of the projected 6.45 million acres planted in Texas in 2014-15 will be abandoned.”
Anderson projects a Texas crop potential in the range of 7 million to 8.3 million bales, “depending on weather conditions between now and mid-October. Today, my production estimate for Texas is around 7.6 million bales, compared to 4.2 million last year.”
Anderson said Oklahoma growers planted 240,000 acres of cotton and expect to produce about 300,000 bales. “Their crop is in good condition. In Kansas, growers planted 43,000 acres that are in good condition and may produce some 60,000 bales. Anderson estimated total production for the Southwest at 8 million bales.
According to Jarral Neeper, president of Calcot, Ltd., the total of upland and Pima acres in California and Arizona, at 365,000 acres, “is the smallest number of acres across these two states since the 1930s. The single biggest factor is the decline in water availability. California is in its third consecutive year of well-below average winter snowfall, which has led to a severe decline in reservoir levels.
“In addition to that are the legislative drought conditions imposed by the Environmental Species Act, which certainly favors a 3-inch bait fish over the needs of several thousand farmers and ranchers, as well as the nutritional needs of a nation.”
Neeper said there has also been a noticeable shift to permanent crop plantings in the San Joaquin Valley, such as almonds, pistachios and grapes. “In reality it’s a little unfair to blame the decline of cotton acres completely on water, but it is true that had there been more water available, there would’ve been more cotton acres.”
Arizona also has water issues, Neeper said, “but not nearly to the extent as California. However that’s likely to change in the next few years as water availability from the Central Arizona Project will be curtailed for agricultural purposes.”
Neeper pegged New Mexico’s cotton acres at around 30,000 acres of upland and 5,000 acres of Pima. Irrigated Pima acres south of El Paso, Texas number around 13,000 acres.
“Crop conditions in California are very good. Insect pressures have been very light and fruit retention has been fantastic. In general, the crop is about two weeks ahead of schedule. The only concern is in the central part of the Valley, some of the wells are already starting to drop off, so the worry is having enough water to finish the crop.”
In Arizona, crop conditions have also been very favorable, according to Neeper. “Insects have been light this year and the crop is several days ahead of schedule. In New Mexico and south of El Paso, the crop is doing well but is a little bit behind schedule.”
With good yields expected, Neeper estimates upland production in California Arizona and New Mexico at roughly 740,000 bales and Pima, at about 545,000 bales. That would bring total cotton production in the area to 1.285 million bales, versus 1.507 million bales a year ago.
Mid-South and Southeast
According to professor emeritus O.A. Cleveland, the Mid-South and Southeast cotton crops have caught up from a late start. “A lot of the crop has already laid by, and we’re just marking time now, waiting for heat units and the timely moisture to develop the fruit that’s already been set. Boll set in has been exceptional.
Cleveland estimates 5.2 million bales of production in the Southeast “based on what we see today.” He estimates a Mid-South crop of 3.2 million bales.
“We have an exceptionally good crop in these two regions, if we can just harvest it and get the bag and ties around it.”
The Cotton Roundtable is sponsored by Intercontinental Exchange, Cotton Incorporated, Certified FiberMax, Ag Market Network and Farm Press Publications.