Optimism, a scarce commodity in the cotton sector the last few years, now seems more prevalent as a tightening supply outlook and hope for recovery in consumer demand have lent support to price.

A run above 80 cents helped offset some of the gloom and doom that pervaded the industry as corn almost drove a stake in the heart of King Cotton — who’d have thought Mississippi cotton acreage would crash to 270,000, as it did last year, an all-time low?

Although prices haven’t held at 80 cents or above, except for a sharp dip in February they’ve stayed above 70 cents, with most activity between 74 cents and 80 cents, and in late July hovering around 73 cents.

Seventy cents-plus ain’t bad either. And those who divine the markets don’t discount that futures prices could top 80 cents again as the new marketing year unfolds.

Should there be setbacks in U.S. production, particularly in Texas’ huge crop prospects, or in that of 800-pound gorilla competitors China and India, it could add upward momentum to price.

Analyst O.A. Cleveland, in a recent presentation, said the 84-cent futures price that occurred back in March looks to be “a pretty hard ceiling” in terms of pricing the current crop, but that he looks for cotton to continue bullish.

“With a potential big crop out there, I find it tough to see December futures going above 80 cents,” he said, “but I do see July 2011 having the ability to go beyond 84 cents.”

Driving around the Delta this year, it requires no particularly astute powers of observation to note that a lot of fields that were in corn the last few years are now in cotton. Some of the switch has been for rotational purposes, but most, analysts say, has been price-driven.

A couple of years ago, as cotton’s future was looking anything but bright, long-time Mississippi ginner/producer James Killebrew said at a joint meeting of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association and the Delta Council Ginning and Cotton Quality Improvement Committee that, as things were shaping up, his Holmes Gin “may not gin any cotton next year [2009],” and he worried that some gins could go out of business.

As it turned out, he did gin some cotton in 2009 — only 7,000 bales, he said at this year’s SCGA/Delta Council meeting. But, things are looking better: he’s expecting to gin about 18,000 bales this season. “We’ve managed to hang on,” he says, “and we can hope a stronger market will encourage more acres in 2011.”

But those who follow the markets know, too, that price can be a double-edged sword. “Good times don’t last for long,” Dale Cougot, National Cotton Council senior economist, said at the meeting. Prices over 70 cents will encourage more acres, he says — “and it likely will happen a lot faster than we’d like for it to.”

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com