“This is not just a temporary change in our spending habits. We’re looking at a generational change that may last far beyond what you would normally expect coming out of a recession. It’s not just the Baby Boomers — it goes across all generations.”

Turning to the 2010 U.S. cotton crop, Johnson says producers are enjoying a revival with a crop estimated at 18.8 million bales, or 54 percent more than in 2009. This is due in a large part to a record contribution by Texas of 47 percent of the total crop. Assuming normal harvest weather, Texas should make a record crop of 8.8 million bales.

“Despite a lot of heat in the U.S., new cotton varieties considered to be more tolerant to drought have proven to be as much. Yields and overall quality are holding,” she says.

The U.S. cotton supply is forecast at 21.8 million bales, 3 million above 2009 but still the second lowest since 2001.

On a global scale, the USDA estimates world area at 32.9 million hectares, up 2.7 million from 2009.

“A higher planted area in India and an exploding interest in the Southern Hemisphere will push this global figure to a minimum of 33.5 million hectares due to the current price of cotton,” says Johnson, who forecasts a 2010/11 world cotton crop of 119.2 million bales, the fourth largest on record. She estimates the world cotton supply at 166.2 million bales, the sixth largest on record but the second smallest since 2004.

It is truly extraordinary what prices have done, she says. “The only other example we have to look at in terms of these actual prices was in 1995, March, April, May and June. It’s because of weather and demand, and I believe specs are playing a hand in part of this rally.”

Cotton is certainly more expensive than polyester, says Johnson, but consumer preference has played a large role in the continued strong demand for cotton.

U.S. mills, she says, account for only 3 percent of world consumption, so the vast majority of U.S. retail cotton textile consumption is imports. “We export more than 80 percent of our crop, so if it’s made overseas, it doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t made from U.S. cotton. U.S. mill demand is a sad picture, with a lot of job losses in the Southeast due to mill closings. But it does look at though it has stabilized for this coming crop year.

USDA has pegged global consumption of cotton as the third largest number on record despite the U.S. economy, says Johnson.

From 2000 to 2010, she says, world cotton consumption grew by 28.3 million bales from 92.2 million to the current estimate of 120.5 million. China, India and Pakistan accounted for 49 percent of world consumption in 2000, but by 2010, their market share had advanced to 68 percent.

“The 2010/11 U.S. export market share is projected at 41 percent, the same as 2003 and 2004. The 2008 market share was a record due to reduced exports by India, but fell in 2009 as India returned to the export market. Put another way, our exports will rise or fall depending on the level and timing of India’s exports.”