EDITOR’s NOTE — The following information was compiled by USDA’s James Johnson, James Kiawu, Stephen MacDonald, Leslie Meyer and Carol Skelly and was presented this past week at the Agricultural Outlook Conference in Washington, D.C.

The early USDA projection for 2012 U.S. cotton planted acreage is 13.2 million acres, a decrease of about 10 percent from last year, due mainly to lower cotton prices and relative net returns that favor shifts to alternative crops.

The projection is above the level of 12.3 million acres indicated by statistical analysis, but below the results of the recent National Cotton Council survey.

The analysis quantifies the effects of relative crop prices and soil moisture conditions in the Southwest (where drought conditions generally favor cotton), based on U.S. area response for the 2002-2011 period.

The main variables are ratios of cotton to corn and soybean prices (using averages of fall futures prices for the February-March period preceding planting each year) and an index of soil moisture on the Texas High Plains as of June 1.

For 2012, soil moisture is projected to be below average but improved from the extreme drought of 2011.

The National Cotton Council’s (NCC’s) survey forecast of 13.6 million acres was released on Feb. 11, reflecting responses received from mid-December through mid-January.

Respondents to the NCC survey reported that the decreased cotton acreage in the Southeast will be replaced with corn, soybeans, and peanuts.

In the Delta, corn is overwhelmingly expected to replace the acres moving out of cotton.

The survey indicated that wheat acreage—along with other crops, like sorghum—is replacing cotton in the Southwest, while wheat and specialty crops increase at cotton’s expense in the West.

USDA’s first survey of producer planting intentions — Prospective Plantings — will be conducted in early March and published on March 30, 2012.

Cotton plantings of 13.2 million acres are estimated to result in harvested acreage of about 10.5 million acres. National abandonment rates have been highly variable recently — ranging from 2.5 percent for the 2010 crop to a record of nearly 34 percent in 2011.