And the bell just may ring at 300,000 acres, 75,000 more than the National Cotton Council predicted would be planted just two months ago for the entire U.S. Pima Belt. If California reaches that level, it would more than double its 2002's acreage.

By May 15 growers and merchants should have a pretty good idea if it reached that level. That is when growers, merchants and industry suppliers will meet at the fourth annual Pima Production Summit at the Visalia Convention Center, Visalia, Calif.

Sponsored by Western Farm Press, Supima Association of America, California Cotton Growers and Ginners Associations and University of California Cooperative Extension, speakers will provide insight into the acreage that is in the ground then and what the marketing as well as the agronomic future might be for the acreage.

The acreage estimate is being hammered upward by upland New York Futures contracts diving to contract lows. This is coupled with uncertainties over what the federal bailout may look like. Most are predicting an AMTA payment of about 15 cents. However even with an Acala premium, that barely cracks the 70-cent barrier.

Growers can get about 82 cents putting Pima in the loan. The economic negatives of added ginning costs and lower value cottonseed are not likely to cut a 12-cent slice into the Pima pie. Also, growers contracted Pima in the $1 range earlier in the season when it was apparent acreage would be up substantially this season.

"Nobody knows how the market will unfold for either upland or Pima," says Matt Laughlin," executive vice president of the Supima Association.

The scale tips heavily to Pima with today's upland planting time futures prices and the uncertainty of what the federal government will do.

Bankers looking at that assured 82 cents per pound are pushing growers toward Pima.

Another argument that heretofore has not been on the table is the successful ELS Competitiveness Payment Program, which still has more than $8.7 million available, according to Laughlin.

"The new program clearly has had a positive effect on U.S. Pima cotton sales and prices during the current marketing year," he said.

Looking ahead, this Step 2-type program could be an important marketing tool for U.S. Pima in the 2001/02 season in which both the U.S. and Egypt are expected to increase ELS cotton production by as much as 200,000 bales each, noted Laughlin.

For Pima Summit registration information, contact Harry Cline at harry_cline@intertec.com.