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Is USDA's Texas cotton estimate on target?

Is USDA's Sept. 1 estimate of 5.4 million bales for the 2006 Texas cotton crop way off base or do Texas Agricultural Statistics Service crop enumerators know something the rest of the industry hasn't figured out yet?

That was the question Carl Anderson, Texas A&M University professor and Extension specialist emeritus, tried to answer during a recent Ag Market Network conference call. Anderson was one of the panelists on the monthly marketing briefing.

While the panelists on the call said they believe the 2006 U.S. crop could still come in under 20 million bales — USDA's Sept. 1 forecast put the crop at 20.35 million — Anderson said he believes the Texas estimate could be more on target than farmers might believe.

“The 5.4 million bales certainly is a surprise to us in a way, but, as I analyze the data, I can see where it's very likely we have that much cotton,” he said. “USDA says we've abandoned 2.2 million acres, and I think that could be close to the final figure.

“Farmers will still have to harvest their fields,” he said. “If there's 100 pounds of lint out in the field, it will be harvested, and that will be counted as harvested acres.”

One of the factors that must be considered, he said, is that Texas now has about 2 million acres of irrigated cotton, “and our irrigated crop looks really good. So we very likely have at least 1.5 million acres out there that is good for at least two bales to the acre.”

Texas also has at least 200,000 acres of cotton under drip irrigation. “Those 200,000 acres are good for three bales per acre on the low side, which would be 600,000, and, on the high side, some of those fields could produce four bales to the acre.

“I don't have any good numbers on this, so it could be that we have 250,000 acres of drip irrigation, which could push those numbers even higher. We have a lot of Texas cotton that will come in from the irrigated side this year.”

Dryland acres could also prove to be more productive than many growers expect, Anderson noted.

“The dryland acres that I have seen in central Texas are absolutely hard to believe,” he said. “But some of those fields could still make a bale and a half to a bale and three-quarters to the acre. In areas where it was dry all summer, we had just enough moisture to get a crop started.

“The point is the new varieties are more drought-tolerant than the old. Farmers are using new farming practices and new irrigating techniques. So I'm going to accept the 5.4 million bales that USDA has come up with. It's a little on the high side from what we would have expected in the old days.”

Analysts with Plains Cotton Growers Association, the group representing cotton producers on the Texas High Plains, said they're not ready to accept the USDA projections just yet.

“From our Plains Cotton Advisory Group meeting this morning (Sept. 15), we developed a general consensus that we should shave half a million bales or more off the TASS estimate for the Plains Cotton Grower area,” a PCG spokesman said.

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