The National Cotton Council says U.S. cotton acreage could drop to 9.5 million in 2008 as farmers in the Mid-South and Southeast switch to wheat and soybean, a cropping combination that offers farmers much more favorable prices than cotton for now.

The 9.5-million figure would be 1.33 million or 11.8 percent less than last year's 10.83 million acres and would be the lowest since 1983's payment-in-kind-reduced acreage of 7.93 million. But the decline was not as drastic as some analysts were projecting.

The forecast is based on a survey of growers conducted in mid-December. The survey had a response rate of 10 percent, which is comparable to the returns for similar types of surveys, said Steve Slinsky, the NCC's assistant director of economic services, who presented the survey results at the group's 70th annual meeting in Memphis.

Analysts had been predicting 2008 acreage could fall below 9 million acres as growers flocked to crops with better price outlooks for the second year in a row. In all, cotton acres will have dropped nearly 3.25 million acres since 2006, if the Council survey proves accurate.

2008 December corn and November soybean futures were trading from $1.10 to $4.14 per bushel higher, respectively, when the survey was taken in mid-December than they were at the same time in 2006, said Slinsky.

“Coupled with USDA's recent wheat acreage report (which indicated a sharp increase in winter wheat acres), it is widely expect that a wheat-soybean double-crop rotation will attract acreage from both cotton and corn,” he noted.

All of the Mid-South states indicate a shift from cotton to wheat and soybean with major percentage decreases for cotton in Mississippi (31 percent), Arkansas (30 percent) and Tennessee (29 percent). Respondents from Louisiana (18 percent) and Missouri (8 percent) said they expected smaller increases.

“This means that 2008 Mid-South cotton area intentions would be less than half of that region's 2006 level,” said Slinsky, noting that the Mid-South acreage totaled 4.2 million acres in that year vs. the projected 2.05 million for 2008.

The survey said farmers in the Southeast could reduce acres 11.5 percent from 2.26 million in 2007 to 1.2 million in 2008. The biggest declines would occur in North and South Carolina where growers would drop their acreages by 22 percent and 20 percent. Smaller decreases of 4.8 percent and 6 percent were forecast for Georgia and Virginia.

The decline would be much smaller in the Southwest where growers on the High Plains of Texas could actually increase acres by 1.4 percent, according to Slinsky. For all of Texas, acreage could fall from 4.9 million to 4.79 million acres or 2.3 percent as farmers in the Rio Grande Valley and east Texas switch to soybeans.

Growers in Kansas and Oklahoma are expected to increase acres from 47,000 to 54,000 or 15.6 percent in Kansas and 175,000 to 180,000 or 2.6 percent in Oklahoma, in part, because of lower input costs for those states.

The biggest declines could occur in the Far West where growers could lower upland cotton plantings from 411,000 to 252,000 acres or 38.7 percent because of concerns about water supplies and due to more attractive prices for specialty crops.

Growers in California could plant only 91,000 acres of upland cotton in 2008, a 53.3 percent drop from last year's 170,000. Acreage in Arizona and New Mexico could be down 25 and 26 percent (from 170,000 to 127,000 in Arizona and from 46,000 to 34,000 in New Mexico).

Each of the four states producing ELS cotton indicated declining area. In Arizona, California and Texas, declines were 20 percent to 21 percent with California's Pima acreage projected to decline from 260,000 to 204,000 acres.