The Beltwide's Been Busy

Much of 2004 cotton remains to be harvested and/or ginned from Southwest crop. J.T. Smith

Published on: Jan 7, 2005

One of the latest cotton crops in Southwest history—and the largest for the Cotton Belt—didn’t deter 3,500-plus from attending the weeklong 2005 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans.

"I got all my peanuts harvested, but still have more than 900 acres of cotton in the field," Haskell County, Texas grower Robert Turner allows.

But with more moisture striking the fields back in Texas, Turner decided New Orleans was the place to be for learning the latest—from packed general and special sessions, to an overflow crowd at the cotton trade show.

W.B. "Billy" Dunavant, Memphis, Tenn. cotton merchant, pegs the 2004 Texas crop at 7,450,000 bales, which will hammer the 6-million bale record which had held 55 years since the 1949 crop. Dunavant says the Texas crop would have made 8 million bales had it not been for incredibly wet weather in October, November and even December. In turn, the U.S. cotton crop will be 22.8 million bales, only down slightly from 23 million, and a national record.

Randal Bankhead, a Roscoe, Texas grower in the Champion community, felt fortunate he had all but about 80 acres of his 2,700 acres of cotton harvested before the Beltwide. All 1,400 acres of his irrigated and 1,300 acres of dryland cotton is grown in conservation tillage. Bankhead plants cotton into wheat stubble, and he obviously has ample moisture going toward the 2005 planting season.

Bankhead notes his region ran out of module covers this year—so many naked, free-standing modules were simply marked with an ID. His wife and daughter did the artwork on one of their modules as a salute to the National Cotton Council and the Beltwide meeting.

Woody Anderson, a third-generation Colorado City, Texas grower and outgoing chairman of the National Cotton Council, was rushing back to Texas hoping to resume cotton harvest—but in full realization of the wet January conditions.

"I can’t say when we will finish harvesting this year," Anderson says.

Vann Stewart, executive vice president, Texas Independent Ginners Association, reports many TIGA ginners expecting to process cotton bales into spring.

Shawn Wade of Plains Cotton Growers, Inc. in Lubbock agreed—"It wouldn’t surprise me if some cotton gins were still running in April."

With both Dunavant and USDA projecting a record Texas harvest—whenever it is finally over—it is evident a big chunk is from the High Plains, where Wade expects 4-1/2 million bales is right on target for the 25-county High Plains region surrounding Lubbock. Meanwhile, the Rolling Plains, alone could easily produce a million-bale crop. Big cotton yields have come in from other parts of Texas too.

The current season’s world crop of 115.5 million bales is just an overwhelming record, Dunavant notes, "Nothing can compare to that production number."

Such a hefty global cotton harvest is still too much for even a good global consumption expected to chew up 104 million bales.

So another 11-plus million bales tacked on to the existing world carryover will bring global carryout to 46.9 million bales come July 31. That will mean an already burdensome supply starting the 2005-2006 marketing year.

"I don’t expect any major rallies of 10 or 12 cents per pound, but maybe only 2 to 3 cents through the entire season," he says.

"West Africa has cotton to sell, Australia has cotton to sell—everyone has cotton to sell," Dunavant observes.

Nevertheless, whatever the world price of U.S. cotton may be at any given time, Drayton Mayers, director of industry services, Cotton Council International, Memphis, Tenn., says American cotton is clearly the best and the most preferred cotton in the world market.

"U.S. cotton trades at a 4-cent per pond premium over cotton in 65 other cotton-growing countries," Mayers points out.

Quality is extra important when global cotton production for the first time in 9 years greatly exceeds world consumption, adds Robert Norris, president of Calcot, Ltd., Bakersfield, Calif., and also CCI president. Calcot is the nation’s largest cotton marketing cooperative.

Year 2005 will be exceptionally interesting in the cotton trade, Norris allows, as the world textile and apparel trade flings open the doors, and operates in a non-quota environment.

With China next door, it may be difficult for the U.S. to depend upon the longtime traditional big-three customers of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. China can be either a big cotton competitor or a buyer of U.S. cotton, Mayers notes.

Dunavant was even more direct on the future scenario: "China, Mexico and Turkey—during your lifetimes—will continue to be the major markets for U.S. cotton."

Cotton has long enjoyed a lot of clout on Capitol Hill. But the clout is cloudy for the 109th U.S. Congress, reports John McGuire, senior vice president of Washington Operations, the National Cotton Council. Twenty-four members, or nearly half of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, have served less than four years on the committee. Twenty-six year veteran of Congress, former U.S. Rep. Charles W. Stenholm, was Ranking Minority Member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee. But the Stamford, Texas Democrat widely known for his bipartisanship was left without his 17th District after massive redistricting in Texas, and forced to unsuccessfully run as a challenger for the revised and greatly expanded 19th District.

Without the former executive vice president of Rolling Plains Cotton Growers as a familiar friend to cotton on the House Ag Committee, the Ranking Member will be Rep. Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, who will work with Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, who is Committee Chairman.

Meanwhile, the cotton industry will be working for a good relation with Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns, who is the White House choice for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.