The 2005 U.S. cotton crop is shaping up to be an average one at best, according to analysts speaking at the Cotton Roundtable, July 8 at the New York Board of Trade in New York City.

Acreage planted to cotton is estimated to have increased by 3 percent over last year, but weather has taken a toll on yield potential, with production expected at roughly between 19.3 million and 19.6 million bales. Last year, the United States produced a record 23 million bales.

The Mid-South and Southeast, which produced a record 11.8 million bales of cotton in 2004, is estimated to have increased cotton plantings slightly in the Southeast and by 450,000 acres in the Mid-South.

Despite the acreage increase, “we anticipate a substantially smaller crop,” said O.A. Cleveland, professor emeritus, Mississippi State University. While USDA has the regions pegged for about 11 million bales, “We've got the crop around 10.4 million to 10.5 million bales, about 1.3 million bales less than last year.”

Ironically, the smaller production is the result of hot and muggy weather, generally considered a good cotton environment. Last year's more moderate weather and record yields may cause some tweaking of the definition. “It tells us that we had ideal cotton growing weather last year and this cotton growing weather that we like so much is probably a little stressful on the crop.”

Cleveland noted that crops in the region have been under heat stress until recently. “Lately most all of the cotton growing areas have received excellent moisture, particularly in the north Delta.”

He noted that the crop “is probably about 10 days behind normal, and we're not going to have nearly the crop we had last year even with all the extra acres.”

While Texas won't match last year's 7.74 million bale crop, which broke a 55 year old record of 6.02 million bales, this year's production is still expected to be a near record, at around 6.1 million bales.

“The boll weevil eradication program, good weather and new technologies padded the yield in 2004,” said Carl Anderson, Texas A&M economist. “This year, we had excellent subsoil moisture across the state to start with, a requirement in our dryland areas.

However, during the past several months “we have had some dry months.”

Texas acreage is estimated at 5.8 million acres, 50,000 acres less than last year. “This represents 40 percent of the nation's acreage. Our acreage is about one-third irrigated, two-thirds dryland. Drip irrigation is growing rapidly with about 200,000 acres in the west Texas area. Drip irrigation yields run between 3 bales and 4 bales to the acre.

“Although the west Texas crop is progressing well, about 4 million acres are about two weeks late. At this time, less than 20 percent is setting bolls. It's very early in the season and the next four to six weeks will be very important for providing moisture and good temperatures.

“Seventy-five percent of the west Texas crop is in fair condition,” Anderson said. “Less than eight percent is in excellent condition and only six percent is in poor condition. I expect abandonment in west Texas to run about 11 percent, compared to 8 percent last year.”

Anderson said about 100,000 acres of dryland production in the Rio Grande Valley “will be well below average because of dry weather. The area has about 200,000 acres of irrigated cotton that is doing well.”

Oklahoma cotton plantings of around 200,000 acres “could easily produce 300,000 bales. In Kansas, cotton acreage has been growing the last few years and leveled off this year to about 80,000 acres. They lose about 15 percent of that and the rest makes about a bale to the acre.”

Anderson pegged total production in the three states at between 6.3 to 6.5 million bales.

According to Jarral Neeper, vice president of marketing, Calcot, the California crop is off to a late start in most areas. Acreage is estimated to have fallen to around 500,000 acres, “but it's interesting that the pink bollworm survey suggests that we don't even have that much.

“Growers have been switching to permanent crops over the last several years, and with $3 a pound plus for almonds the shift is going to continue to shift over time,” Neeper said.

He doesn't expect California producers to repeat last year's record yielding crop, which averaged 1,540 pounds per acre. “Optimistically, we're looking at somewhere around 1,350 pounds to 1,400 pounds. From what I hear, it's a crop that is really starting to load up. So there is some optimism that the crop won't be nearly as bad as people thought it would be a month ago.”

But it could be an expensive crop, according to Neeper. “We have considerable Lygus pressure. Aphids are starting to build up in some hot spots. And later on in the year people will start to worry about white flies. So with the big yields will come some big costs.”

He estimates California production at 1.3 million to 1.4 million bales, compared to 1.8 million bales a year ago. “The Pima crop in California is off to a little better start than the Upland. This year, the total California crop including Pima could be as large as 2 million bales.

Neeper estimates Arizona average yields of 1,250 pounds to 1,300 pounds. “The state crop should be no larger that 600,000 bales, versus 720,000 bales last year. Pima production in Arizona is very small, 8,000 bales, versus 4,000 bales a year ago.”

The Cotton Roundtable is sponsored by the New York Board of Trade, Certified FiberMax, Cotton Incorporated, Ag Market Network and Farm Press Publications.

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com