The U.S. cotton price bubble is not likely to rupture soon, according to economists at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta.

Although no one expects breathtaking prices like the highest December futures price since the Civil War to last forever, the overheated market may deflate over time. Then again, significant air may stay in the bubble longer than many expect, since world stocks are in a precarious position and a major disaster could re-inflate the bubble.

If all that sounds a bit ambiguous, it is because three leading cotton market experts told a big crowd at the National Cotton Council’s Beltwide economic outlook symposium that the  cotton market is in uncharted territory in a world economy that is far from traditional. It is difficult to forecast what the future might hold.

Calcot CEO Jarral Neeper, CoBank’s economist Terry Barr and Texas A&M economist John Robinson agreed that there will be more cotton produced and consumed in the world in 2011-2012. However, production may not be as robust as prices would indicate. Demand may be tempered by a slow recovery in advanced economies like the U.S. with developing countries having far more influence on the world economy and cotton prices than in the past.

Neeper is calling for a world acreage increase to 35.6 million hectares in 2011-12, an increase of almost 17 percent from last year; “not very much if you look at where prices are.” However, he pointed out that for the two crop seasons (2010-2011 and 2011-2012), the combined two years represent an 18 percent increase over the previous two seasons, the largest two-season increase since the 1960s. His 2011-2012 projection is slightly less than the 35.9 million and 35.7 million hectares planted in 1995 and 2004 respectively in the wake of price run-ups like the market has experienced recently.

Using Neeper’s average yield estimate of 677 pounds per acre, this would put next season’s world production at 124 million bales versus 116 million this year. “I have seen estimates of 127 million and 128 million bales,” but he said limitations are convincing him it will not reach that high.

These include the fact there is little area for cotton acreage expansion in China and India. China is more focused on domestic food production than growing cotton.  India 2010 cotton acreage of 11 million hectares was the highest ever. “India may sprinkle some seed on other ground (in 2011), but I would not expect much yield from it,” Neeper said.