COLUMBIA, Mo. — This year Missouri cotton growers will harvest the third largest yield per acre on record, according to the latest crop reports.

"Good yields are expected in spite of what looked like a bad year for cotton," said Brian Willott, cotton analyst with the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri.

In the October crop report, USDA estimated the Missouri yield at 798 pounds per acre, down from the 834 pounds picked last year. The record yield of 856 pounds per acre was harvested in 1994.

"That would look a lot better if there was a decent price," Willott said. The current adjusted world price for cotton is 36 cents per pound. The U.S. government loan rate, under the new farm bill, is 52 cents a pound.

Of all of the commodities, cotton and rice are the only crops with active loan deficiency payments (LDP), Willott said. "Cotton growers will benefit from LDP this year, because of the low price."

Some factors indicate higher prices may be possible, said the MU economist. "In the United States, cotton production is down by 11 percent. China, a big player in the market, is down 16 percent."

Cotton growers in Southern states have been plagued by wet weather, as two hurricanes came ashore from the Gulf of Mexico. "The last thing you want at cotton harvest is a lot of rain," Willott said.

With lower production predicted and harvest under way, there have been upward movements in cotton prices on the futures market, Willott said. In the fourth week of October, the December cotton futures contract topped 44 cents. The FAPRI baseline calls for a season-average of 41 cents a pound for this crop.

While U.S. upland cotton production is projected at 14.1 million acres this year, FAPRI is projecting a smaller planting — 13.8 million acres — next year. "With low prices, there will be less cotton planted," Willott said. "At less than 40 cent a pound, it's hard to get excited about planting more."

Cotton has regained popularity in the Missouri Bootheel. Large acreages were grown in the 1930s and 1940s, but the crop acreage shrank in the 1960s and 1970s as soybeans became more popular with growers.

In 1974, the Bootheel grew 300,000 acres of cotton, compared to the 405,000 acres planted last year.

With new technology, yields have made a dramatic increase, Willott said. In 1974, the average yield was 335 pounds per acre, less than a bale an acre. In recent years the yield average has crept up toward two bales per acre.

Duane Dailey is an Extension and ag information senior writer for the University of Missouri.