Cotton producers are expected to plant 15 percent more acres to cotton this year than last due to near-record-high cotton prices caused by a global supply shortage. But it is questionable as to whether all of those acres will get planted due to widespread drought that covers much of Texas and Oklahoma and parts of Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana, all prime cotton-growing areas.
“We have the lowest carryover of cotton since at least 1914,” says Carl Anderson, cotton specialist with Texas A&M University. USDA’s latest numbers peg 2010-11 ending stocks at 1.6 million bales. “That gives us the tightest carryover to use in almost 100 years,” Anderson says.
According to USDA’s March 31 Prospective Plantings report, cotton producers are expecting to plant a total of 12.6 million acres. Cotton acreage increases are expected in every state with the largest—548,000 acres—expected in Texas. Increases of more than 100,000 acres are expected in North Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi. Those acres might not get planted, though, due to soils so dry that there is not enough moisture for seed to germinate.
“The threat is serious on the dryland cotton throughout Texas, but particularly in West Texas, where many of the dairies are,” says Anderson. “Irrigated cotton will probably be okay, but yields will likely be lower if we don’t get rain before May and then timely rains throughout the growing season.”
The drought is being blamed on La Nina, which is expected to dissipate by June. “If we don’t get rain in May, it will be a slim chance we’ll make a cotton crop at all,” says Anderson.
The National Weather Service (NWS) Climate Prediction Center expects the drought in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma to worsen. “For the April-June forecast period, it is unlikely for the region to experience much relief from the continuing and intensifying drought,” NWS writes on its website.
Austin Rose, merchandiser with Cape and Son, Abilene, Texas, says, “From central Texas north through Abilene and Lubbock, where the majority of acres are, it’s extremely dry. And nothing in the current forecast is very promising.”
Given the newer drought-resistant varieties of cotton, with rain Texas growers could plant 6.1 million acres, nearly half of the U.S. crop. USDA expects U.S. growers to produce 18.1 million bales of cotton this fall, up from 12.2 million bales last year, according to the latest World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE).
Impact on seed
The biggest impact from extended drought in the dry southern cotton-growing region will be on cottonseed prices, particularly for dairies in West Texas and New Mexico. “It would be very difficult to lock in a cottonseed price now,” says Rose. “Gins are reluctant to give offers.”
Old-crop cottonseed on the spot market was being offered this week near $315/ton. “The market is very high,” says Rose. New-crop October-January contracts were being offered at $245/ton, with bids near $235/ton.
“With a 2 to 4-inch rain, old-crop could drop $15 to $20,” says Rose. But even that might not happen right away as gins wait to see if new-crop cotton receives much-needed rain throughout the growing season. “New-crop prices will likely be supported by the corn market,” he adds.
Even with roughly 40 percent of the nation’s cotton crop threatened, higher cotton prices are not necessarily on tap due to a global response to today’s near-record cotton prices.
Cotton growers in Australia and Brazil are now harvesting large cotton crops. “Brazil has the largest cotton crop in years,” notes Anderson. USDA estimates the Brazilian crop at 9 million bales, up significantly from last year’s 5.5 million bales, and Australia’s estimated crop of 4.5 million bales is more than twice as large as last year’s 1.8 million bales. In the Northern Hemisphere, India is expected to increase cotton acres by 15 percent, according to the Cotton Association of India. And China’s cotton acreage is expected to expand by 5 percent, says Anderson.