Crop prospects across the Cotton Belt range from fair to middling to slap burnt up, according to reports from cotton state representatives at the Cotton Foundation and American Cotton Producers' annual joint meeting in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Oklahoma farmers may be hardest hit. ACP members indicate much of the state has received no rainfall since the first of June and precious little, 7 inches or less, for the year.

Extreme heat made conditions worse, limiting pollination. Even irrigated farms have been hurt and most are running 10 to 14 days behind on irrigation. Acreage may be up, a result of peanut farmers switching crops in response to a new peanut support program and increased incidence of disease mandating a more comprehensive rotation schedule.

Georgia and much of the Southeast fall on the other extreme. Reports indicated Georgia cotton farmers have had more rain this year than in the past two or three seasons and are optimistic about the crop. One area reported more than 6 inches of rain the last week of July. Crop quality is also expected to be good with adequate heat units but no extreme high temperatures or high humidity. Acreage is slightly less than in 2002.

In Virginia, early rainfall delayed the crop. Acreage is down some 20 percent from last year.

North Carolina also had “more rain than needed” early in the season and the crop will be late. Some farmers had to replant two or three times to get a stand. Yields likely will be above average, depending on August rainfall because of shallow root systems developed during extremely wet conditions early.

South Carolina farmers report a fairly good start but need a rain in August to finish the crop. Farmers anticipate a harvest significantly better than last year when yields averaged less than half a bale per acre. Prospects look good.

Alabama growers are optimistic but indicate some spots have had way too much rain and other areas need moisture.

Florida cotton acreage is down slightly, but farmers are optimistic about crop prospects. Like most Southeastern states, rainfall has been adequate through July, and final yields will depend on August and early September moisture.

Mississippi cotton prospects depend on location. The southern Delta outlook appears promising with a uniform crop, while the north Delta is inconsistent. ACP members indicate the southern half of the state will make a good crop; the northern section will harvest less-than-average yields.

Tennessee's crop went in two to three weeks late because of a cool, wet spring. Growers will need good weather throughout the summer to make a decent yield on acreage that's about 10 percent less than last year.

Missouri farmers got most of their cotton in the ground just ahead of 18 inches of steady rain. Some was drowned out, heat units were deficient early, and a lot of dryland acreage was already cutting out in July.

Reports indicate the crop is now about eight days behind normal, has caught up on heat units and has potential to make a good yield with favorable weather.

Arkansas has a varied crop on acreage about 15 percent less than last year. Observers estimate yield will be less than the average 800 pounds per acre recorded in 2002.

North and central Louisiana had ample moisture for planting, but the southern part of the state was dry until the end of June when it finally had rainfall. Then north and central Louisiana dried out. Observers say the crop looks pretty good over all but needs one more rain. Acreage estimate is 550,000.

Texas cotton conditions vary from one of the best crops in years in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to acreage blasted by hail in the High Plains and parched by heat and drought in the far West. Hail got a lot of acreage in the High Plains in May. A lot of cotton got off to a late start and needs rain desperately to make a crop.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley is well into harvest and growers hope to see clear conditions for the next three weeks. So far, it's an above-average crop.

The Coastal Bend and central and east Texas crops range from some of the best cotton in recent years to burned up. Corpus Christi-area farmers expect a good crop. The Blacklands crop is estimated to be a bit better than average.

Cotton is late in the Texas southern Rolling Plains and needs “four 2-inch rains spaced two weeks apart to make two bales per acre,” says one observer. “If we don't get that, we'll make half a bale.”

Another quipped that Texas growers plant “Kool-Aide cotton: just add water.”

West Texas cotton suffered from hail damage and despite being late looks good if it “gets two 2-inch rains.”

Cotton north of Lubbock is “two-thirds gone,” according to one report. “And cotton that survived is later than normal. Growers are looking for an average crop on what's left.”

New Mexico needs rain badly. Irrigated farms have run out of water. Some cotton in the Pecos River Valley looks good, one observer noted. But farmers who depend on Elephant Butte Reservoir had only a 4-inch allocation. That's not enough to make a cotton crop.

Arizona farmers need dry conditions to finish their crop which is rated “pretty good.”

California cotton farmers hoped 2003 would bring a repeat of 2002 yields, “but April weather was the coldest and wettest in recent memory,” an observer said. “A lot of cotton planted in March had to be replanted and a lot of cotton was planted in May. Much of the crop is 10 to 14 days late, so we're looking at an average crop.”

Gary Adams, chief economist with the National Cotton Council, said total U.S. cotton acreage for 2003 would be close to last year, some 13.9 million acres. “With updated reports from abandonment that figure could go down slightly,” he said. “A 10 percent abandonment figure seems too low, especially with problems in Texas.”

A 16.6 million-bale production estimate is 600,000 pounds less than last year. “We'll have a better idea of production in late August with a more accurate survey,” he said. Industry estimates also peg the crop at 16.5 million to 17 million bales.

Adams said a 635-pound estimated average yield could inch up a bit “with good weather through harvest. Crop ratings improved the last week in July. Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, he said, posted the poorest overall ratings and “are lagging normal development going into fall.”


e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com