By Norman Martin
Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas will be the leaders in cotton production in the future.
While U.S. cotton production has diminished, Southwest cotton production will increase and be dominant. Southwest cotton farming will see a growth spurt over the next few years, contrary to the national trend.
From the early 1990s to mid-decade, national cotton production was running full bore, jumping more than 11%. But that pattern stopped back in 2006, says Darren Hudson, lead author of a new national analysis, and director of Texas Tech University Cotton Economics Research Institute in Lubbock.
"Early this decade, many farmers moved from pure cotton monoculture to rotations that included corn and soybeans, partly because of agronomic reasons, but primarily due to price movement," says Hudson.
Reduced U.S. cotton acres, in turn, ultimately meant lower cotton production.
In fact, the average number of bales processed per cotton gin in the United States dropped from a high of 26,920 bales in 2006 to 17,453 in 2008.
Texas Tech researchers now are forecasting that while 4.6 million acres of cotton will be grown in the Southwest region this season, they are predicting that number should climb to 5.57 million acres by 2018.
This analysis uses data from the Texas Tech World Fiber Model, a long-term series of projections founded on assumptions about normal weather patterns, current trade policies, and stable economic fundamentals such as population and income growth, and the prices for crops in market competition with cotton.
Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas to lead
"Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas will be leaders," Hudson says. "We may not be near when we were 12 or 13 million acres nationally, but the Southwest region will still be a dominant region."
One reason for the change is a shift back to cotton from corn, partly because of the price ratio, but also because of water use concerns. Greater drought tolerance favors cotton.
Farmers can still make a crop on dryland with cotton, he notes.
There's also hope for other parts of the Cotton Belt, Hudson says. In some areas, production might shift some from peanuts to cotton.
China and India could change
China and India, respectively, are the top two cotton growers in the world now. But that may change.
Texas Tech economists found that over the next 10 to 15 years, global production mostly likely will begin a transition away from those current production leaders. While China and India are large producers of cotton now, they also have quite large and hungry populations to feed.
"How can they rationalize using acres to produce an industrial crop when they need food?" asked Hudson.
In addition, a plateau in ethanol production also will help in a transition back to cotton acreage.
Alternative crops like corn and soybeans may still see high prices, but not nearly as high as they once were relative to cotton. Farmers are transitioning back, Hudson says, due primarily to fossil fuel prices and the fact that ethanol has lost much of its market luster.
Also key to cotton's new growth will be domestic and international policy decisions.
"Policy will drive planting decisions more than anything else," Hudson concludes.
-Norman Martin is with Texas Tech University, Lubbock.