Increased corn plantings in 2007 have taken a bite out of cotton acreage, and the available supply of whole fuzzy cottonseed for dairy cows.

When USDA released its first assessment of U.S. and world crop supply and demand prospects in May, it projected cotton production to reach 18.8 million bales, 13 percent below last year.

While the planted cotton acreage is down 20 percent from last season, the proportion of acres harvested is likely to rise due to favorable soil moisture conditions in the Southwest, the report says. Meanwhile, the 2007-08 corn crop is projected to reach 12.5 billion bushels, up 18 percent from last year.

According to Tom Wedegaertner, director, cottonseed research and marketing, Cotton Incorporated, a number of interests — including dairy producers, cottonseed oil suppliers and, increasingly, biodiesel manufacturers — are competing for cottonseed, causing prices to rise.

“Interestingly, higher prices have not diminished top dairy nutritionists’ appetite for cottonseed,” he says, noting the feed’s unique combination of effective fiber, protein and energy.

Michelle Wieghart, nutrition and herd services manager for Countryside Cooperative in Durand, Wis., is a self-described “big fan” of cottonseed. Wieghart believes that even when cottonseed prices are elevated, it’s counter-productive to wholly remove the ingredient from dairy rations.

“Cottonseed serves so many purposes,” Wieghart says. “It’s got high protein, energy and excellent effective fiber.

“You hear the Western nutritionists talk about it all the time. Regardless of herd size, some cottonseed ration inclusion makes great sense. Producers may have to pay more on a feed-cost-per-ton basis, but if milk flow is the goal, cottonseed gets you there.”

Countryside Cooperative services about 200 herds, many of those using cottonseed. “Several of our producers are taking a semi-load at a time, but the co-op will deliver 4 tons or so to the farm.”

For today’s dairies that have expanded but haven’t purchased extra land base, cottonseed can bridge the forage gap, she adds.

“Cottonseed functions like a super high-powered alfalfa while offering great oilseed energy value on top of it. I love it.”

Paul Chandler, retired nutritionist and regular Dairyline radio contributor, says removing a proven component like cottonseed from the ration can prove risky.

“A good gambler just does not want to take those chances,” he says. “Even though there might be opportunities to replace cottonseed with cheaper feeds, a producer would not want to take a new feeding route that presents such uncertainty.

“One of the greatest mistakes a dairy producer makes is reacting emotionally to the market,” he continues. “You’ve got to keep the milk flow up on a daily basis. The worst thing you can do is induce what I call a crash,” he says. “It might take you a year to recover from that.”

Typical rations include up to 15 percent cottonseed on a dry matter basis. For more information on cottonseed, including reports on market conditions, feeding information and a list of suppliers, visit www.cottoninc.com.