USDA now projects even fewer harvested acres than in August TEXAS HIGH Plains cotton prospects have declined significantly since the August crop estimate, and the drop may not be over.

Members of the Plains Ginners Asso-ciation gathered recently for their annual meeting in Lubbock and between-session conversation turned to crop conditions.

Ginners said field conditions in many instances may be worse than they appear from the highway.

Much of the dryland acreage, most said, will be abandoned. "But even some of the irrigated fields will produce less than expected," said ginner Jerry Harris.

"A lot of fields look good from the road, but when growers get into the rows, the bolls are not there. I've seen a lot of little bolls that have cracked and do not have a lot of fiber."

Harris is concerned about quality as well. `It's hard to hand gin cotton, class it and develop an accurate estimate of quality, but the cotton we've seen evaluated that way does not look good."

He said irrigated cotton that had plenty of quality water will make an excellent crop. "But much of the cotton in the Plains had limited irrigation and some poor quality water. Those fields need rain to help make the crop and also to wash away some of the salt."

Harris said he has been fooled by drought-stressed cotton before. "Burned up cotton always seems to make more than I think it will, but it doesn't look like a very good crop. We average ginning some 35,000 bales of cotton per year. I doubt that we'll gin 10,000 from this crop."

In addition to almost unabated heat and drought since early July, beet armyworms, aphids, boll weevils and other insect pests have damaged much of the Plains cotton crop. Control measures have increased production costs significantly on a crop that had already strapped budgets with irrigation demands.

"Many in the industry were surprised by the Aug. 1 estimate and the forecast of some 600,000 acres of abandonment on the Texas High Plains," said Shawn Wade, Plains Cotton Growers Associa-tion. "The crop appeared to be in good shape and the area had experienced only isolated incidents of adverse, crop-destroying weather. Since then the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service abandonment forecast is beginning to look a little less surprising and possibly even a little conservative."

Wade said dryland acreage south of Lubbock has taken the greatest hit from a very dry July and August. The dryland crop, which was planted mostly on a series of rainfall events in June, did not receive any moisture to carry it after the June rains were depleted.

"Irrigated cotton has also taken it on the chin," he said. "In some areas, especially where growers did not have the water necessary to keep the crop fully supplied during the past month, yield prospects may be less than anticipated.

Texas yield estimates at 453 pounds per acre are down from the 498 pounds anticipated in August.

All U.S. cotton production is forecast at 18.3 million 480-pound bales, down 4 percent from last month, but up 8 percent from 1999. Based on Sept. 1 conditions, yields are expected to average 622 pounds per harvested acre, down 26 pounds from last month.

Condition of the cotton crop has deteriorated since last month, especially in the Delta and Southwest regions. Continued drought and extremely high temperatures have resulted in additional stress to the crop. Harvested acreage, at 14.1 million acres, reflects an increase from Aug. 1 of 30,000 acres in Arkansas and a decrease of 30,000 acres in Louisiana, 60,000 acres in Mississippi, and 5,000 acres in California.