Despite strong world demand for Pima cotton and prices to reflect it, California cotton acreage will tumble once again, this time to below 300,000 acres this season.

Acala/upland acreage is projected to be down to just 90,000 acres, down 37 percent from last year, according to USDA-NASS. Pima, which represents almost 70 percent of the state’s cotton acreage, is projected to be 190,000 acres, down 16 percent from a year ago.

It is getting precariously close to the 300,000 to 350,000 acres experts say is needed to support a viable infrastructure of ginning, warehousing and trucking. However, cotton survived lower acreages in 2008 and 2009. If realized, the 280,000 acres projected for this season will be the third lowest acreage since 1935.

Price has everything to do with what farmers plant. However, cotton prices are not that bad, especially for Pima. Worldwide demand for U.S. Extra Long Staple cotton is strong. Jesse Curlee, president of Supima, said exports could reach 800,000 bales this year, which would make it the second largest export season in history. “The world economy is improving, and demand is going to be good in the future for Pima,” Curlee says. However, Curlee said at the California Cotton Growers Association annual meeting, 2013 acreage could be down 25 percent to 30 percent based on what he has been hearing from growers. “I hope it is not down as far as people are saying,” he lamented.

 

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Cotton is caught up in California’s water crisis. Water is impacting cotton acreage far more than price. State and federal water agencies have cut back water deliveries this year to the lowest level in four years. Competing with cotton for that water are increasingly more orchards and vineyards. What water growers receive from state and federal water agencies will go to trees and vines before it is used to produce cotton. Farmers fallow open ground and are forced to rely upon groundwater when surface deliveries are cut back. However, well water is often high in minerals which are not good for trees, particularly almonds. Therefore, scarce surface water goes to permanent crops.

Cotton also competes for water with higher value contract field crops, like processing tomatoes and vegetables.