Quite a few market analysts were puzzled by USDA’s Aug. 11 crop report, which projected a hefty 550,000-bale increase in U.S. cotton production, despite a Texas crop which appears to have been severely compromised by record drought and heat this season.

So what’s up?

Extension economist John Robinson, speaking at the August Ag Market Network conference call, was as surprised as anyone by the revision in the production number.

Based on what he’s seen in Texas, he looks for USDA’s estimate of the cotton crop to stay the same or get smaller as the season progresses “depending on whether increases in the eastern part of the United States offset further decreases in the Southwest.”

Robinson says USDA’s August cotton numbers, the first estimates based on actual field sampling, may not fully account for the extraordinary environmental forces at work in Texas and other states.

(For a complete look at the Texas drought, visit http://southeastfarmpress.com/management/texas-agricultural-drought-losses-reach-record-52-billion).

Well over half of Texas cotton acres planted this season will be abandoned, according to USDA. USDA is projecting that 4.5 million bales will be produced in Texas on 3.4 million acres, compared to 7.87 million bales last year on 5.4 million acres. This year’s average yield is projected at 636 pounds, 68 pounds under last year.

In its statistical models, USDA assumes normal weather for the season but also considers crop maturity against average frost dates. But this has been anything but a normal season for U.S. cotton producers, especially for those in Texas.

Robinson noted that a lot of west Texas irrigated cotton is reportedly cutting out a lot earlier than normal. “What normally would be happening in September, like irrigation termination, is happening now. This suggests to me that this is not a normal year in terms of yield potential. It suggests to me that the crop is running out of time. If the USDA models don’t account for some of that external information, I can see them overestimating yield.