The season's first USDA production estimate based on in-field surveys shows the 2007 crop is within striking distance of the four million bale mark for the fourth straight season, and adds support to the cautiously optimistic stance many growers are taking on this year's High Plains cotton crop.

According to the numbers released for Texas Agricultural Statistics Service (TASS) crop reporting districts 1-N and 1-S, the High Plains has the potential to produce 3.95 million bales of cotton from an estimated 2.99 million harvested acres. Projected yield per acre across the region is pegged at 634 pounds per acre.

Nationally USDA forecasts All Cotton production in the United States at 17.137 million bales and Upland Cotton production at 16.5 million bales. USDA estimates Texas will produce 6.1 million bales of Upland cotton in 2007.

This year's initial High Plains cotton production forecast is 3.95 million bales, a slim 100,000 bales shy of the area's 2006 production level of 4.05 million bales.

In the August 10 report, TASS also made slight revisions to the area's planted and harvested acreage figures that were released June 30. According to the latest figures, the High Plains region appears to have planted 3.2 million acres of cotton and is projected to harvest 2.99 million acres. This provides a current abandonment estimate of right at 210,000 acres, or 6.5 percent.

The High Plains region's estimated 3.2 million planted acres is a 17.5 percent decrease in cotton acreage from the 3.89 million acres planted to the crop in 2006. This year's initial 3.2 million cotton acres is also the lowest number of acres initially planted to cotton in the region since the early 1990's.

Breaking the USDA Crop Report for Texas down to the district level shows that district 1-N counties planted 600,000 acres, down 40 percent from 2006 plantings of 994,700 acres. Harvested acres in district 1-N are forecast to be 10 percent below plantings at 540,000 acres.

Yield-wise the northern High Plains crop appears to be down somewhat as well compared to last year with field surveys indicating potential yield at 796 pounds per acre, 93 pounds below 2006's average yield of 889 pounds.

It should be no surprise that most of the projected production decline in this area is attributable to the shifting of a significant amount of the area's better, irrigated land to grain crops and the slow start many fields experienced. Despite the acreage shifts and delays, total production in district 1-N is forecast at a respectable 895,000 bales.

Looking south, cotton producers in district 1-S planted 2.6 million acres according to TASS, an increase of 110,000 acres from USDA's June Planted Acreage Report. The 2007 planted acreage figure is 283,000 acres less than the area 1-S producers planted to cotton in 2006, a decrease of 10 percent.

Based on the revised acreage forecast, this months report indicates harvested acres in 1-S will total 2.45 million, a difference of 150,000 acres or 5.7 percent. District 1-S yields are forecast at 599 pounds per acre, slightly below the 637 pounds per harvested acre achieved in 2006.

Taking into account the improved moisture situation in the majority of the 1-S production region and the continuation of favorable weather conditions, district 1-S yields appear to have the potential to rise to 2006 levels with just a little help from Mother Nature.

As noted in recent weeks through a variety of sources, the 2007 crop has the potential to provide another outstanding result for High Plains cotton producers. Summer-like conditions punctuated by one or two seasonal rainfall events are the key to pushing the 2007 crop over and above USDA's current forecast.

Whether the region's prospects increase or diminish are, as usual, dependent on the weather and the pattern that establishes itself between now and late September.

This week's USDA Crop Production report verifies why there is a lot to be optimistic about regarding the 2007 crop and sets the stage for measuring its progress from this point forward.

The counties located in districts 1-N and 1-S, which include most of the counties in the Texas Panhandle and above the Caprock, closely mirror the composition of the 41-county Plains Cotton Growers, Inc. membership area.