Unusually hostile spring weather, delayed cotton planting in Texas, record alfalfa winterkill across the Midwest, and a looming hurricane season threaten to reduce the 2005 cottonseed supply this fall.

These factors, combined with current low cottonseed prices and good milk prices, are reason enough for dairy producers to book up to 50 percent of their total cottonseed needs now, experts say.

"Even with cotton acreage up from last year, marginal growing conditions could take a serious toll on the 2005 cottonseed supply," notes Roy Cantrell, vice president of agricultural research, Cotton Incorporated.

U.S. cotton acreage increased one percent to 13,815,000 acres from 13,659,000 acres in 2004, a record-breaking year for cotton production.

"Snow and rain delayed cotton planting by about two weeks and set up conditions for a host of seedling diseases," Cantrell says. "And recent reports forecasting a heavy hurricane season have created speculation over how well a late crop will fare at harvest."

Adds Larry Johnson of Cottonseed LLC, La Crosse, Wis., "On the bearish side, a normal crop could happen if weather cooperates, but two consecutive years of record cotton is highly improbable. We also could see a considerable amount of carry-over from last year's bumper crop.

"One thing that is certain, and probably the biggest driving force for cottonseed prices in the dairy market this year, is the alfalfa winterkill situation." More than 3 million acres were lost in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. In Wisconsin, nearly a third of the crop experienced moderate winterkill, while 17 percent had severe winterkill. "Wisconsin's alfalfa crop alone can determine the price and usage of cottonseed, and Wisconsin was hit pretty hard."

Johnson explains that cottonseed offers a high level of effective fiber, so it is often used as a replacement for forages, or as a forage extender, when alfalfa is expensive or in short supply. Effective fiber supports high milk and butterfat production in dairy cows.

World trade patterns remain another important consideration, he adds. "In Australia, a smaller-than-anticipated crop this spring and drought conditions could mean fewer imports, while potentially increasing demand for the new U.S. crop in Japan, Korea and Saudi Arabia this fall."

All factors considered, Johnson says producers should book up to half of their total cottonseed needs now.

"Cottonseed prices are still at historical lows, and milk prices are good. From a dairy standpoint, producers should be buying 25 to 50 percent of their future needs. There's potential for prices in this market to go up. If you don't buy anything now, you're not averaging your pricing."

Cottonseed is an excellent and economical source of fiber, protein and energy; it also helps maintain a good environment in the rumen. Typical rations include up to 15 percent cottonseed on a dry matter basis.

For more information on cottonseed, including reports on market conditions, feeding information and a list of suppliers, visit www.cottoninc.com.

Cotton Incorporated, funded by U.S. growers of upland cotton and importers of cotton and cotton textile products, is the research and marketing company representing upland cotton.