USDA is forecasting that U.S. cotton producers will plant 16 million acres in 2001, 3 percent more than the 15.5 million in 2000 and the highest since 16.9 million acres in 1995.

Speaking at the Agriculture Department’s annual Outlook Conference in Arlington, Va., economists said they believe that acreage combined with slightly lower yields and reduced abandonment will result in a 2001 U.S. cotton crop of 19 million bales.

“Coupled with the current beginning stock estimate of 4.5 million bales, total U.S. cotton supplies next season would reach 23.5 million bales, 2.3 million bales above 2000/01 and the highest cotton supply in 35 years,” said Leslie Meyer, an agricultural economist with USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Meyer, one of a team of economists who prepared the forecast, said USDA is basing its lower abandonment figure of 9 percent – versus 11 percent in 2000 ﷓ on the hope that more normal weather conditions will prevail in the Cotton Belt in 2001.

He said U.S. cotton yields are projected to decline slightly due to projected higher input costs, specifically for fertilizer, fuel and water, and the expected increase in marginal acres planted to cotton in 2001.

The economists said that after falling for two years, foreign cotton area is expected to rebound in 2001/02, rising more than 1 million hectares or 2.7 million acres with most of the gains coming in China, India, Uzbekistan, the Franc Zone of Africa and Brazil.

“With higher area in most major foreign producing countries likely, foreign production could rise 3 million bales to about 74 million in 2001/02,” said Meyer. “At this level, foreign production would be its largest since 1995/96.”

The economists did not put a figure on China’s acreage for 2001, but said reports of rising prices and the opportunity to plant cotton containing the Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt gene lead them to believe China’s cotton production will increase from 2000’s 20 million bales.

As a result of such increases, Meyer said, world production for 2001/02 is expected to reach the level of consumption for the first time in four years. World stocks are forecast unchanged at 37.3 million bales, remaining at their lowest level since 1995/96.