U.S. cotton producers could produce a crop of 14.3 million bales this year, according to cotton analysts speaking at the Cotton Roundtable at the Intercontinental Exchange in New York City.

The crop is still a long way from determined, however, due to a number of uncertainties, including lateness, dry weather and in some areas, too much rainfall.

O.A. Cleveland, professor emeritus, Mississippi State University, estimates that the Mid-South and Southeast growing regions will produce about 7.8 million bales of cotton on about 3.8 million acres. “The crops got off to a very slow start. We had a lot of cool weather at first and a lot of moisture. A lot of growers planted as many as three times before they got a stand. This has made for a rather expensive crop, and because of all the corn in the area, we’re seeing an enhanced number of plant bugs. Some growers have made three to four sprays for them.”

Cleveland said the crop has benefited from much needed hot weather “but we’re still getting more rain than what is needed in the Mid-South and Southeast. The crop is generally good looking, but it’s slow and late. We still have plenty of time to make a bumper crop. We’re starting to see some cutout in some dryland areas. There’s more cotton blooming out the top than we’d like to see.”

Cleveland described the acreage decline in the Mid-South as “staggering to us old time cotton folks. We have 1.3 million acres in the Mid-South. There was a time when we had 1.3 million acres in Mississippi alone.” Cleveland projects the Mid-South will produce 2.4 million bales.

Meanwhile, the Southeast region now boasts three of the top five U.S. states in terms of acreage in Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama. Cleveland expects the region to produce 5.2 million bales on 2.5 million to 2.6 million acres.

Drought continues to be a problem in the Southwest region, which includes Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

 “For the third year in a row, Texas is facing extreme drought conditions,” said Carl Anderson, Extension professor emeritus, Texas A&M University. “At least a third of the state’s 5.7 million acres will likely be abandoned. Most of the dryland crop never germinated. Much of the irrigated ground is short of sufficient water to produce an average crop.”

Anderson said that for the first half of 2013, rainfall across most cotton-producing areas in Texas totaled less than two inches. Topsoil moisture across the cotton-growing area is rated at 49 percent short or very short.

    As of July 21, USDA rated the Texas cotton as 17 percent, very poor, 21 percent, poor, 36 percent, fair, 22 percent, good, and 4 percent, excellent. However, Anderson reported that in mid-July, the San Angelo area received soaking rainfall that gave cotton a boost in a 12-county region.

    “Given the limited moisture, below-average irrigated and dryland cotton yields are expected,” Anderson said. He estimated irrigated cotton at around 2.5 million acres and dryland about 3.2 million acres.

    “In South Texas, where some of the most productive dryland exists, cotton conditions are poor except for the Upper Coast east of Victoria, Texas. West Texas cotton is relatively young and in the early stages of preparing to produce cotton,” Anderson said.

Statewide, 18 percent of the crop was setting bolls as of July 21, compared to a 5-year average of 31 percent. “As a result, the existing cotton could improve with timely rain and moderate temperatures in late summer and early fall,” Anderson said.

    Because of limited sub-soil moisture, Anderson pegs the Texas cotton crop potential in the 4.5 million to 5.5 million bale range, “depending on good or not-so-good weather conditions between now and the middle of October. Today, my production estimate for Texas is around 4.9 million bales compared to 5 million bales last year.”

    Oklahoma’s cotton crop is in mostly poor to fair condition, according to Anderson and could produce around 100,000 bales on 150,000 acres. Kansas could produce as much as 35,000 bales on 30,000 acres. The Southwest region might harvest 5 million bales, Anderson said.

There is some uncertainty about how much cotton is planted in California, noted Jarral Neeper, president of Calcot. “At the end of March, USDA estimated that California would plant 280,000 acres to cotton, a reduction of 87,000 acres from the year before. Of the total, 190,000 were to be planted to Pima and 90,000 to upland.

At the end of June, however, USDA estimated that California planted 330,000 acres, “meaning that between the March survey and the end of June, farmers committed to growing another 50,000 acres of cotton.”

Neeper said the higher acreage doesn’t agree with information gleaned from the pink bollworm mapping program, which puts the acreage at 275,000 acres. “The total does not include the Sacramento Valley, but even adding in those acres, estimated at 2,500, brings acreage up only marginally.”

For this reason, Neeper estimate “is assuming the original end-of-March planting intentions along with very low abandonment rates.”

Neeper noted that while the California crop is off to a good start “it does not compare to a year ago, when fruit retention rates exceeded 90 percent for most growers. Upland yields last year totaled a record 1,729 pounds, while Pima yields were a record 1,616 pounds. This year, heat is having some impact on shed, especially in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

Neeper estimates upland yields for the state at 1,579 pounds per acre and Pima at 1,439 pounds. That would put California upland production at 295,000 bales versus 508,000 bales a year ago, and Pima production at 567,000 bales versus 753,000 last year. Total California production for 2013 is estimated at 861,000 bales, versus 1.26 million last year.

In Arizona, planted area is expected to be 170,000 acres, compared to 200,000 acres a year ago. USDA’s weekly condition report indicate that 90 percent of the crop is rated good to excellent and only 10 percent, fair.

“This year, an early start combined with heat unit accumulation approximately 7 days ahead of normal gave a boost to an optimistic outlook,” Neeper said. But extreme temperatures over the last three weeks have removed some of the luster.

In some instances, rainfall has been a lifesaver for Arizona growers, Neeper noted. “In southeastern Arizona, the monsoons have put water in the Gila River, which has allowed growers to stop pumping from wells, which were running low to begin with.”

Neeper estimates a yield of 1,511 pounds for Arizona, versus 1,474 pounds last year. This would produce a crop of 515,000 bales compared to 605,000 last year. Arizona expects to produce about 2,000 bales of Pima.

For New Mexico, Neeper estimates a crop yield potential of 1,089 pounds, which would produce 68,000 bales. Pima production should come in around 9,000 bales.

Pima production in far west Texas along the Rio Grande Valley is estimated at 19,000 bales.

Neeper estimated upland production in California, Arizona and New Mexico at 877,000 bales versus 1.198 million bales a year ago. Total Pima production is estimated at 596,000 bales, versus 780,000 bales last year.

Total production for all regions is estimated at 14.273 million bales.

The Cotton Roundtable, now in its 13th year, is sponsored by the Intercontinental Exchange, Ag Market Network, Cotton Incorporated, Bayer CropScience and Farm Press Publications.