After three straight years of declines, U.S. cotton acreage could be headed back up, according to the National Cotton Council’s 27th annual Early Season Planting Intentions Survey.

The survey of growers in 17 cotton-growing states, conducted from mid-December to mid-January, indicates an increase in cotton plantings to 10.1 million acres this spring, a 10.3 percent increase over last year.

All four production regions show increases in intended plantings. The results were announced at the NCC’s 2010 annual meeting, Feb. 5, in Memphis.

Total upland cotton intentions are 9.9 million acres, an increase of 10 percent from 2009, while Pima cotton intentions of 176,000 acres represent a 24 percent rise.

Assuming an average abandonment rate of 11.5 percent, total upland and Pima harvested area would be about 8.9 million acres. Average yields would produce a crop of 15.5 million bales, a 3.1 million bale increase over 2009 production of 12.4 million bales. Cottonseed productions would be 5.2 million tons, up a million tons from last year’s 4.2 million tons.

The West shows the largest percentage increase of 26.6 percent, while the Southwest shows the largest increase in actual acreage with a bump of 475,000 acres.

The Southeast and Mid-South indicate planting increases of 12.2 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively.

NCC Senior Economist Dale Cougot noted that prevailing market conditions this year are more favorable for cotton than some of the main competing crops. This was due partly to further tightening of world and U.S. cotton supplies and either higher production or lower demand in competing crops.

Cougot noted that the ratio of oil prices to corn prices, which is important for ethanol profitability “has improved slightly from 2009, but is well below 2007-08.”

Cougot said during the survey period “attitudes toward cotton prices were more optimistic as we headed into the December 2010 contract, which rose from 65 cents to slightly over 70 cents from August until January. This was in stark contrast to last year when growers watched futures prices drop from 85 cents to below 45 cents, before settling around 55 cents, with a lot of pressure on the downside.

“It’s still early to fully evaluate the impact of weather, ground moisture and water availability, but most of the Cotton Belt at this point is better off than in the last several years — which may alleviate some of the drag on acres and yields.

“At this time, planting seeds are still in the sack and growers will continue to monitor market conditions comparing relative crop prices and cost in the coming weeks that could alter the final decision.”

The survey indicated increased cotton plantings in all Southeast states except Florida, where growers indicated a return to more peanut plantings. Both Alabama and North Carolina indicated cotton acreage increases of 20 percent with shifts coming from reductions in corn and soybean acres. Growers in South Carolina and Virginia look to increase acres 13 percent and 10 percent, at the expense of soybeans. Georgia looks to increase cotton acres by 9 percent at the expense of corn. Florida growers expect to decrease cotton acres by 2 percent.

All Mid-South states intend to expand cotton acres, from a low of 0.4 percent in Arkansas to a high of 19 percent in Mississippi. Tennessee expects to increase acres by 18 percent, Missouri, 8 percent and Louisiana, 1 percent.

Missouri cotton acres are expanding at the expense of corn, while Louisiana and Mississippi acres are increasing acres at the expense of corn and soybeans.

Tennessee and Arkansas producers intend to plant additional cotton acres on land previously devoted to wheat and double-cropped soybeans.

Southwest growers intend to expand area to 5.7 million acres, due in part to subsiding drought in Texas where intended acreage would increase by 8.3 percent. Increases in Kansas, 19 percent, and Oklahoma, 26.3 percent, reflect shifts away from wheat.

“In light of Texas accounting for 54 percent of U.S. cotton planted area and its wider variance in abandonment acres and yields, Texas could swing the crop estimates in either direction by several million bales this season,” Cougot said.

Western growers indicated an increase in upland planting of 27 percent. California’s 37 percent increase in upland plantings would break a 5-year declining trend and represents the largest percentage growth across the Cotton Belt. According to Cougot, this stems from nervousness in tomato prices and dairy feed production, but hinges on water availability, which could swing acres either way. Survey responses also revealed increases in Arizona, 20 percent and New Mexico, 32 percent.

Increases in the four states producing Pima cotton are due to better Pima prices, which are finding support in strong export demand and tighter stocks. California leads the way with an increase of 28 percent, followed by Texas, 7 percent, Arizona, 5 percent and New Mexico, 4 percent.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com