Despite an extended hurricane season that threatened to damage the U.S. cotton crop just months ago, 2005 crop production and yields are trying to break last year’s record, pushing current cottonseed prices to historical lows, experts say.

“A month ago we were uncertain how the hurricanes that tore through the southeastern United States this fall would affect yields,” says Tom Wedegaertner, director of cottonseed research and marketing, Cotton Incorporated in Cary, N.C. “However, recent reports from USDA reveal that yields nationally are expected to average 813 pounds per acre, up 16 pounds from last month but down 42 pounds from 2004.”

These figures have forecasters weighing in year-end cotton yields at 23.2 million bales —second only to the record 23.3 million-bale crop produced last season.” According to Larry Johnson of Cottonseed LLC, La Crosse, Wis., the nearby market has seen considerable downward pressure because of transportation shortfalls, two record crops in a row, and a fast-paced harvest due to excellent weather conditions.

“Overall, the market has a lot of work to do to get through the large amount of cottonseed and will struggle to push prices upward,” he says. “Dairies need to add positions and continue to buy when the market is as low as it is right now.”

Ryan Keller of Kelland Registered Holsteins, a 330-cow dairy farm in Richland Center, Wis., is using a vacant silo to average down his pricing of whole fuzzy cottonseed.

“We’ve increased efficiency in our dairy operation by utilizing our 55-foot concrete stave silo to store a seven-month supply of whole cottonseed,” he says. “The silo holds 168 to170 tons, allowing us a better volume price discount, while reducing the amount of on-farm deliveries from once or twice a week to once every seven months.”

Don Gaspar of Santa Fe Trail Dairy, a 6,000-cow dairy in Ulysses, Kan., says he is a “huge fan” of bagging cottonseed — a feedstuff he “wouldn’t do without” because of the fiber. “Bagging is the best storage method to ensure quality and less shrinkage, unless you own a commodity shed.”

Last year, the operation bagged 3,000 tons of the feedstuff. This year, Gaspar did not bag cottonseed due to wet weather. “When it rains in western Kansas, the ground gets really muddy and getting to the bags is problematic,” he says. They plan on putting in asphalt later this year or early next year to create a dry foundation for the bags. “When it comes to ensuring quality and feed consistency, you can’t beat the bag.”

Cottonseed is an excellent and economical source of fiber, protein and energy. Typical rations include up to 15 percent cottonseed on a dry matter basis.

For more information on cottonseed, including reports on market conditions, feeding information and a list of suppliers, visit www.cottoninc.com.