U.S. cotton producers intend to plant 14.44 million acres of cotton in 2006, a 1.7 percent increase from 2005, according to the National Cotton Council's annual early season planting intentions survey. The results of the survey were released at the council's annual meeting in Tucson, Ariz.

The slight increase in acres masks a significant change in the West, where Arizona, California and New Mexico cotton growers have indicated that they will reduce upland cotton acres by 23 percent from 2005, while increasing plantings of extra long staple (ELS) cotton. Noted Stephen Slinsky, the NCC's senior economist, “ELS prices have remained strong relative to upland prices.”

The NCC survey was mailed in mid-December to about one-third of the producers across the 17-state Cotton Belt. Slinsky said that on average, the survey has been within plus or minus 5 percent of actual plantings, as reported by USDA.

Upland cotton intentions are 14.12 million acres, an increase of 1.4 percent from 2005 plantings of 13.93 million acres. ELS intentions of 312,000 acres represent a 15.2 percent increase from 2005.

With estimated abandonment of 9 percent, total upland and ELS harvested area would be about 13.09 million acres. Applying state-level yield assumptions to projected harvested acres generates a cotton crop of 21.41 million bales. For 2006, the upland crop is projected at 20.59 million bales, while the ELS crop is pegged at 827,000 bales. In 2005, total production was 23.72 million bales.

Assuming average seed-to-lint ratios, cotton seed production for 2006 is projected at 7.66 million tons, down from 8.5 million tons last year.

Slinsky said that final acreage decisions will be heavily influenced by expected returns of cotton and competing crops. “However, this year producers are paying special attention to higher fuel and fertilizer costs and soil moisture conditions.”

Based on survey results, the Southeast, Mid-South and Southwest regions show intended upland cotton planting increases of 3.3 percent, 6.2 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively.

According to the survey, all Southeastern states except Alabama indicate higher acreage than 2005. Alabama's reported acreage decline of 0.5 percent indicates a shift from cotton to corn and soybeans, while increased cotton acreage in other Southeast states appear to come at the expense of peanuts, according to Slinsky.

In the Mid-South, the sharp increase in fertilizer prices is causing growers to shift away from nitrogen-intensive crops such as corn and rice, and moving some of those acres to cotton. And favorable cotton yields over the past two years have boosted expectations on cotton returns, he said.

The Southwest shows a modest increase in acres due to higher acreage in Kansas and Oklahoma. Texas growers are lacking the moisture enjoyed last year and indicated that they will plant 19,000 fewer acres in 2006.

e-mail: erobinson@prismb2b.com