U.S. cotton producers intend to plant 14.76 million acres of cotton this spring, up 9.5 percent from 2003, according to the National Cotton Council's 21st annual Early Season Planting Intentions Survey.

The survey, released at the NCC's 65th annual meeting in New Orleans, said upland cotton plantings could reach 14.55 million acres, an increase of 9.3 percent from 2003's 13.3 million acres. Extra long staple growers indicated they would seed 212,000 acres, an 18.6 percent increase from 2003.

The survey, which was mailed in mid-December to about one-third of U.S. cotton producers, points to a potential 2004 U.S. crop of 18.5 million, which would be only slightly above 2003's 18.22 million bales.

Farmers in south Texas and Florida and south Georgia begin planting in February, but the bulk of the U.S. crop will not go in the ground until late April or early May.

For the first time in several years, growers are comparing prices for cotton, corn and soybeans, the principle crops in the Sun Belt, that are substantially above the Commodity Credit Corp. loan rates for those crops, said the Cotton Council's Gary Adams.

“In fact, as growers enter the coming season, prices are at their highest levels since the beginning of the 1998 planting time,” said Adams, the NCC's vice president of economics and policy analysis. “Final acreage decisions will be based on expected returns of cotton and competing crops, but also must take into account agronomic considerations such as crop rotation.”

Based on survey results, the Southwest and Mid-South regions of the Cotton Belt show the largest increases with upland cotton plantings potentially up 12.8 percent and 10.3 percent. Growers in the Southeast and Far West could increase plantings by 2.1 percent and 7.0 percent.

One reason for the small increase in the Southeast in 2004 is because Georgia growers indicate a reduction of 6.1 percent to 1.22 million acres with intentions to shift acreage from cotton into soybeans and other crops, most likely peanuts.

The combination of higher prices and favorable yields appear to be the factors leading to the Mid-South's increased upland area. The survey shows cotton plantings will expand partially at the expense of corn.

In the Southwest, the survey indicated Texas growers intend to plant 6.32 million acres, an increase of 12.9 percent from 2003. This is an outcome that stands in stark contrast to the survey results for Oklahoma, where growers are suggesting a decline in acreage of 6.1 percent, which would be their fourth straight annual decline.

Out West, Adams said that growers in Arizona intend to increase upland area by 12.9 percent to 243,000 acres while a 31.5 percent increase to 74,000 acres is indicated for New Mexico.

“For Arizona, the recovery in acreage would still be well short of acreage levels observed in 2000 and 2001, while New Mexico would recover to levels comparable to those years,” he noted.

With average abandonment, total upland and ELS harvested area would be about 12.94 million acres. Applying each state's trend yield to its 2004 projected harvested acres generates a crop of 18.50 million bales, 17.93 million bales of upland cotton and 561,000 bales of ELS cotton. This compares to 2003's total production of 18.22 million bales, according to USDA's January 2004 estimate. Cottonseed production for 2004 is projected at 6.78 million tons, up from 6.69 million last year.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com