For the first time in several years, U.S. cotton farmers are likely to produce a crop without a “2” in front of it. Cotton analysts speaking at the July 13 Cotton Roundtable in New York City estimated a crop of between 17.25 million bales and 17.38 million bales this year, slightly lower than USDA's July 12 estimate of 17.5 million bales, and significantly lower than recent crops of 23.9 million bales in 2005 and 21.5 million bales in 2006.

The big reason for the smaller U.S. crop is a significant reduction in U.S. plantings, estimated by USDA at 11.1 million acres. The Mid-South and Southeast regions have both taken huge hits, noted O.A. Cleveland, professor emeritus, Mississippi State University. “Roughly 2.3 million acres of cotton were planted in the Southeast this year, which is down 33 percent from last year. In the Mid-South, plantings are about 2.7 million acres, which is down about 30 percent from last year.”

Cleveland noted that cotton is on very strong land in both regions, which has the capacity “to overcome a lot of Mother Nature.” However, cotton in the Carolina area “is not as strong as it's been in the past. It's a late crop. And the crop in much of Alabama has been burning up due to drought.”

Mississippi has essentially its lowest planting in the modern era. “USDA has the Mississippi cotton crop at 680,000 acres planted, but looking at boll weevil certification acres, Mississippi has certified only about 660,000 acres. In 1983, when we had the payment in kind program (PIK), we had 687,000 acres.

Cleveland expects a Southeast cotton crop of around 3.1 million to 3.2 million bales and a Mid-South crop of around 5.1 million bales. “A lot of folks in Mississippi are saying that this is the best crop they've ever seen, but there's just not enough of it. Arkansas also has a good crop. It's going to be hard to beat last year; it's an early crop, so the potential is there if they can get some timely rains.”

Statistics say Texas has had an adequate amount of rainfall on its cotton crop over the last two years. But a drought one year followed by constant stormy deluges the next is hardly adequate in the minds of the state's cotton producers, and proof that statistics never tell the whole story.

The drought of 2006 knocked 2.3 million acres out of production in Texas last year, dropping harvested acres to 4.1 million acres, noted Carl Anderson, Extension specialist emeritus, Texas A&M University. “I expect this year's harvest to be around 4.625 million acres, 525,000 more acres than last year. I'm projecting average yield for dryland and irrigated cotton of close to 1.5 bales per acre.”

According to Anderson, the Texas cotton crop is progressing well. “As of July 3, 70 percent of the crop was rated as fair to good. The other 30 percent is half excellent, with the other half poor. Because of weather, cotton in the southern High Plains around Lubbock and the Rolling Plains, mostly north of Abilene, is about two weeks late.

“This area includes about 4 million acres or 80 percent of the crop. Consequently, the late cotton will need warm weather in September and early October to reach maturity. The other 1 million acres, located from the central Texas Blacklands south are on schedule. The first bale of cotton was ginned June 28, at Harlingen, Texas.”

Anderson says the Texas crop is in as good a shape as it was in 2005 when a record 8.4 million bale crop was made from almost 5.6 million harvested acres and yield averaged 1.5 bales statewide.

He estimates the size of this year's Texas cotton at 6.9 million bales with a range of 6.5 million to 7.4 million bales. He expects Oklahoma cotton production at around 269,000 bales. Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas could collectively produce as much as 7.3 million bales, according to Anderson.

The big story continues to be the reduction in cotton acres in California, according to Jarral Neeper, vice-president, marketing, Calcot, Bakersfield, Calif. “This year, we have 185,000 acres of upland and 265,000 of Pima cotton for a combined acreage of 450,000 acres, the lowest since 1946. If you just look at the upland acreage, it's the lowest since 1932.”

Reasons for the declines include a doubling of the dairy industry over the last 10 years “and you have more people planting almonds, pistachios and grapes.”

Despite its small size, the California crop “looks pretty good this year. Generally speaking the crop is in very good condition. We could have some water issues at the end of this year. We didn't get the snow pack that we usually get, only 29 percent of normal. In certain places where growers have had to buy water on the open market, it's going for as much as $500 to $600 an acre-foot. You just can't afford to water cotton at those prices.”

Neeper expects the San Joaquin Valley, where about 140,000 acres of Acala are planted, will produce a crop of 420,000 bales, with yields of about 3 bales per acre.

Add to that production from about 6,000 acres of upland cotton in the Sacramento Valley, 20,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley and about 20,000 acres scattered between the Imperial Valley and Riverside County “and you have a California upland crop of 540,000 bales to 550,000 bales. Pima production is expected to come in around 700,000 bales to 710,000 bales. All together, this would produce a total crop of around 1.25 million bales.

The Arizona cotton crop in the western part of the state “is as good as they've ever seen it,” Neeper said. “As you go east, the crop starts to deteriorate just a little bit, because it got in the ground a little bit later. Total production in Arizona is expected to be somewhere between 500,000 bales and 530,000 bales, down marginally from a year ago.”