Growers responding to the NCC’s 20th annual Early Season Planting Intentions Survey indicated they would 13.86 million acres, an increase of 1.1 percent from 2002 plantings of 13.72 million acres. Far West growers said they plant 184,000 acres of ELS cotton, a 24.7 percent decline from 2002.

The results of the survey, which was conducted in early January, were announced at the Council’s 64th Annual Meeting, which began today in Tampa, FL.

With average abandonment, total upland and ELS harvested area would be about 12.70 million acres. Applying each state’s average yield to its 2003 projected harvested acres generates a crop of 17.10 million bales, 16.64 million bales of upland cotton and 453,000 bales of ELS cotton.

That would be almost even with 2002’s total production of 17.15 million bales, according to USDA’s January 2003 estimate. Cottonseed production for 2003 is projected at 6.38 million tons, virtually unchanged from the 2002 level.

The NCC survey was mailed in late December of 2002 to about one-third of the cotton producers across the U.S. Surveys had to be returned by late January in order to be included in the results.

Gary Adams, vice president of economics and policy analysis, noted a number of factors in determining an acreage number that is only slightly different from last year.

"Prices of cotton, as well as competing crops such as corn and soybeans, have improved from year-earlier levels,” Adams said. “However, in the case of cotton and soybeans, current futures suggest that grower returns will still be consistent with loan values or just slightly better for this year’s crop. Corn prices have fared slightly better than either cotton or soybeans, and as a result, we may see some acres shift from cotton into corn.

“As an offset, changes in the peanut program under the 2002 farm bill may lead to additional acres shifted into cotton."

The economist said the decline in ELS acreage comes in response to prices that remain pressured below historical averages.

According to Adams, the NCC’s forecast of 14.05 million acres is generally in-line with industry expectations. Based on survey results, the Mid-South and the Southwest show the largest increases with plantings up 3.3 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively. A decrease of 5.0 percent is indicated for the Southeast, which may reflect some pessimism and financial stress in a region that suffered through one of the worst droughts in history.

Upland acreage in the Far West would be up 1.1 percent, if growers follow through on their January intentions when the planting season begins this spring.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com