Cotton analysts are projecting a 15.8 million bale U.S. cotton crop this season, 1.2 million bales lower than USDA’s July 11 projection of 17 million bales. The analysts spoke at the Ag Market Network’s annual Cotton Roundtable, held at the Intercontinental Exchange in New York City. Here’s a breakdown by region.

Southwest

While this year’s Texas crop is still struggling under the grip of an extended drought, it’s doing better than last year’s 3.5 million bale crop, in which 62 percent of the acreage was abandoned.

USDA’s Texas cotton crop condition index for the current crop is now around 62 percent compared to 36 percent a year ago, noted Carl Anderson, Extension specialist emeritus, Texas A&M University. (A crop at 100 percent is considered perfect).

Moderate to severe drought conditions have existed for more than a year in Texas, Anderson said. “During the first half of 2012, rainfall across most cotton areas in Texas totaled less than 2 inches. However, there have been some localized rains that benefited both irrigated fields and some dryland areas.

“In the three months of April through June, much of the cotton growing areas have received 8 percent to 12 percent of normal rainfall. As of July 23, Texas cotton is rated by USDA as 8 percent very poor, 17 percent poor, 38 percent fair, 31 percent good and only 6 percent excellent.”

Given the lack of normal rainfall, below average irrigated and dryland cotton yields are expected in Texas, according to Anderson.

Of the estimated 6.8 million acres planted in Texas, about one-third of the acreage planted (mostly dryland) is likely to be abandoned due primarily to dry soil conditions. In South Texas, cotton conditions are mixed – some good and some bad.

“Statewide, 35 percent of the crop was setting bolls as of July 23. As a result, the existing cotton could improve with timely rain and moderate temperatures in late summer and early fall. The Texas cotton crop potential is in the 4.5 million to 6 million bale range, depending on good or not-so-good weather conditions between now and the middle of October.”

Anderson’s production estimate for Texas is a tentative 5.3 million bales. “The crop for the next two months needs to be watched closely for changes in growing conditions.”

Oklahoma growers could produce around 436,000 bales on 330,000 acres. The crop is mostly in fair to good condition. Kansas growers planted 55,000 acres that are in fair to good condition and may produce 64,000 bales. Growers in the Southwest states of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas might harvest around 5.8 million bales, according to Anderson.

Mid-South and Southeast

The Southeast planted about 2.7 million acres to cotton this season, down about 700,000 acres from the previous year. The crop got off to a very good start, according to O.A. Cleveland, professor emeritus, Mississippi State University. “It slowed a bit when it got a little dry, but it’s still ahead of normal.”

Cleveland says the crop is “a little better than average crop, which means the yield will be close to 800 pounds. We’re looking at about 4.3 million bales coming out of the Southeast.”

Based on USDA numbers, the Mid-South is down only 300,000 acres from last year, having planted 2.1 million acres, “which many think is between 150,000 acres and 200,000 acres too high.”

The Mid-South crop “got off to a good start, probably the fastest start ever,” Cleveland said. Like in the Southeast, the crop slowed down on dry weather, “but has come back. It’s above average. We’ve had excellent moisture during July.”

Cleveland expects Mid-South yields of a little better than average “maybe as high as 900 pounds, which would produce about 3.8 million bales of cotton. I’m sticking with that number even though I think that acreage is going to come down.”

Far West

Jarral Neeper, president of Calcot, is projecting record to near-record yields for California this season, noting that the outlook for the Far West cotton crop at this time has been described as “scary good.”

“We didn’t off to the best start. We had some trouble getting the crop in the ground. But we’ve had unbelievable weather. We haven’t had the extreme heat, and we’ve had nice cool nights.”

Neeper projects California yields at a record 1,660 pounds for upland cotton and 1,577 pounds for Pima, which would produce a crop of 1.2 million bales – 512,000 bales of upland and 703,000 bales of Pima.

Neeper estimates a yield of 1,598 pounds per acre for Arizona upland, producing a crop of 659,000 bales. Pima production will fall on reduced acres, Neeper noted. “Arizona will produce only 8,000 bales of Pima, for a total of 667,000 bales.”

That brings total production in the Far West to 1.9 million bales “which is probably on the high side,” Neeper said.