Growers show optimism in crop Cotton producers appear to be preparing to roll the dice again, set to take their chances with more acres of cotton because, as the old saying goes, "it's the crop that brung them."

Growers responding to the National Cotton Council's 18th annual Early Season Planting Intentions Survey said they would increase their cotton acreage 2.3 percent to 15.9 million in 2001.

That's despite flat upland cotton prices, waning farm program benefits and rising fertilizer/energy costs, according to Kent Lanclos, an NCC economist who announced the survey results at the organization's annual meeting in San Diego.

Lanclos said rising input costs could actually be a factor in boosting cotton acres in 2001.

"There is evidence that fertilizer costs are perhaps double those of the previous year, and fuel costs have risen even more," he said. "For a typical U.S. cotton grower, this could increase production costs by perhaps $30 to $40 per acre.

"The impact will be even greater for corn production - with its higher fertilization and drying requirements," he said in a presentation to the American Cotton Producers, the grower arm of the Council. "So, more acres might be induced into cotton than would have been otherwise this coming season."

The survey, which revealed that upland cotton intentions are 15.67 million acres, an increase of two percent over 2000's 15.36 million, appears to bear out what some growers were saying in advance of its release.

"Considering that nothing else is offering a positive return, we're hearing that growers will plant more cotton because it's always been their money crop," said Mike Sturdivant Jr. of Itta Bena, Miss.

According to the survey, Southeastern growers said they planned to increase acres only slightly, from 2000's 3.56 million to 3.61 million or 1.4 percent.

In Georgia, farmers said they planned to reduce planting by 2.9 percent to 1.46 million, while Alabama growers said they would increase theirs by 4.4 percent to 616,000; North Carolina 5.7 percent to 983,000 acres; and South Carolina 5.3 percent to 316,000 acres. If realized, North Carolina's plantings would be the largest for the state since 1937's 1.1 million.

Growers in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee said they planned to increase their cotton acreage by 14.6 percent, 13.8 percent and 14.1 percent in 2001. Louisiana growers said they would raise theirs by 3.8 percent while Missouri's would remain unchanged from 2000.

Some analysts are saying acreage could jump even higher in parts of the Mid-South with high county averages because of federal crop insurance provisions allowing growers to apply those averages to a portion of their farms with no recent cotton production history.

For the five Mid-South states, cotton growers indicated they would plant 4.37 million acres, a 10.8 percent increase over 2000's actual plantings of 3.94 million.

Southwest growers said they would decrease cotton acres from 2000's 6.72 million to 6.6 million, a drop of 1.8 percent. Oklahoma's acreage would drop 10.5 percent to 251,000 and Texas 1.4 percent to 6.3 million, while Kansas would add another 1,000, bringing its total to 41,000, if the survey intentions are realized.

In the Far West, growers indicated they would decrease upland cotton acres from 1.15 million to 1.1 million acres or 4.3 percent. But, the survey shows growers in Arizona and California would increase extra long staple acres from 151,000 to 196,000 acres or 30 percent.

"With U.S. prices around $1 per pound, some upland acres are being shifted back to ELS or pima cotton," said Lanclos.

Given average abandonment, total harvested area would be about 14.33 million acres, he said. Applying each state's average yield to its 2001 projected harvested acres generates a crop of 18.46 million bales - 17.98 million of upland and 479,000 of pima.

Lanclos said the NCC survey, mailed to a random group of about one-third of U.S. cotton growers, got an eight percent response rate, which is smaller than the typical 10 percent.

Even though NCC's 2000 cotton acreage estimate of 15.35 million was only 190,000 acres lower than USDA's final 2000 number, he said, 2001 actual plantings could be significantly different from growers' initial intentions due to changing weather and market conditions between now and planting time.

Still, the NCC total planting numbers of 15.9 million acres are only slightly below the 16.1 million and 16.2 million acres currently being used by Memphis, Tenn.-based Dunavant Enterprises Inc. and the Sparks Companies Inc.