High temperatures and lack of rainfall have taken a severe toll on U.S. cotton production in the last three weeks, possibly pushing the 2006 crop to as low as 18 million to 19 million bales, a National Cotton Council economist says.

“Two or three weeks ago, we probably would have been looking at a crop in the 20-million-bale range,” said Gary Adams, the NCC’ s vice president for economics and policy affairs. “But we’ve seen that crop deteriorate with the dry conditions and the high temperatures.”

Adams, whose comments came during the joint summer meeting of the American Cotton Producers and The Cotton Foundation in San Antonio, said he was basing his assessment on the weekly, crop condition reports compiled by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The reports, which are released each Monday, list the percentages of the crop in each state that are very poor, poor, fair, good and excellent. NASS’ first survey-based estimates of the 2006 crops are due to be released on Aug. 11.

“This is a subjective rating – certainly there’s no doubt about that,” Adams said in his economic update report. “We’ve seen some notable changes in the last two to three weeks in some Mid-South and Southeast states in terms of the percentages of the crops rated poor to very poor.”

“There’s not much hope left (for Alabama’s crop,” said Sam Spruell, Alabama’s representative for the American Cotton Producers, the group that represents the producer segment of the Council. Spruell hails from Mount Hope, Ala., a fact that wasn’t lost on his fellow ACP members.

Adams noted that the July 31 NASS crop conditions report said that 75 percent of Alabama’s cotton crop was rated poor/very poor. “If you go back over the last 20 years of these reports, we had only one state – South Carolina in 1986 – that was actually listed above the 75 percent poor/very poor category,” he said.

“So these are some of the worst crop conditions we’ve seen in a number of years.”

USDA’s July 31 crop condition report also put the Texas and Oklahoma crops at slightly above 50 percent poor/very poor. Nearly 40 percent of Georgia’s crop was listed in the category, followed by 31 percent of Mississippi’s and 23 percent of South Carolina’s.

In their portion of the state-by-state crop progress reports that are given at each ACP meeting, Texas growers said more the amount of “failed” acres in the High Plains now exceeds 1 million.

“The cotton in the dryland acres north of Lubbock is now practically non-existent,” said Ricky Bearden, chairman of the Plains Cotton Growers Association. “We’re now at about 1 million failed acres out of 3.9 million planted or about 25 percent.”

All told, USDA said 34 percent of the U.S. crop was listed as poor/very poor at the end of July.

If the current forecasts of hot, dry weather continue, the plunge from last year’s 24-million-bale crop to this year’s 18-million to 19-million bale harvest would be one of the sharpest drops in recent memory.

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