Nowhere have losses in U.S cotton acreage been as great as they’ve been in the Mid-South and California. The situation has spawned an interesting comparison or two.
“There’s more cotton in Lubbock County, Texas, than in California,” O.A. Cleveland, professor emeritus, Mississippi State University, said recently. “That’s just unheard of. Our industry has changed considerably.”
It also seems unheard of that there would be more corn acres in Mississippi than of the fluffy stuff. But it’s true. Four years ago Mississippi had about 1.2 million acres of cotton and 380,000 acres of corn. Today, it has 800,000 acres of corn and 270,000 acres of cotton.
Cleveland believes cotton can come back in Mississippi and the Mid-South — with lower corn and higher cotton prices — but not to the levels achieved in 2000, when U.S. acreage climbed to 15.6 million acres. “We might get back to 12.5 million acres to 13.5 million acres in the United States.”
On a positive note, Cleveland noted that cotton’s support infrastructure is hanging in there. “There is still plenty of ginning capacity across the Cotton Belt.”
In California and Arizona, water costs “have been the driving force” for crop mix, said Jarral Neeper, president of Calcot, based in Bakersfield, Calif. “If there was more water available, you would have seen more cotton acres this year. Cotton can work in Arizona and California if growers have access to cheap water. It’s difficult to grow cotton when you’re paying $400 to $600 an acre for water.”
Cotton acreage in California has also been lost to dairy cows. “When I first started at Calcot in 1994, there were 600,000 dairy cows in the San Joaquin Valley. Today, there are 1.6 million. So a lot of cotton ground has been used as forage ground.”
Those dairies are struggling today, Neeper said. “If they’re still struggling this next spring, and we have plenty of water, you’ll see a bounce back in cotton acres in California. It won’t be huge. We’ll go from 190,000 acres to 250,000 to 300,000 acres. But any increase is good as far as we’re concerned.”
The cotton industry is not only worried about declining acreage, it must also deal with more uncertainty in prognosticating production. That’s because Texas cotton acreage hasn’t dropped as significantly as it has in other areas, and as a result it now produces a larger share of the total U.S. crop. Because so much of the state is in dryland production, there is more uncertainty about its eventual size. At the halfway point of the season, it’s still a hard crop to pin down.
Carl Anderson, Extension professor emeritus, Texas A&M University, summed it up as well as anybody. “We’re going to be questioning the Texas crop all the way to the end. And we have to have an excellent September and a half a month in October to get back our later cotton.”