Cotton Acreage on the Upswing for 2018

Cotton Acreage on the Upswing for 2018

American cotton producers have indicated that they intend to plant more cotton in 2018 – continuing a trend of increased acreage that began after the 2015 crop was harvested.

Growers, consultants, Extension agents and other cotton professionals participating in the annual Cotton Grower Acreage Survey estimated that there will be 12,969,000 acres of cotton planted in the United States in 2018 – a slight increase from the 2017 crop which saw 12,619,000 planted cotton acres, per USDA figures.


Cotton acreage in the United States has made a remarkable turnaround since 2015, when producers planted 8,581,000 acres – the lowest total in over 30 years. But a bevy of factors – not least of which an improving global demand scenario – have encouraged more acres. This year, survey respondents cited higher yield capability and improving prices as primary factors encouraging more cotton acreage in 2018.

As a region, the Southwest will continue to lead the way in terms of acreage in 2018, with some 7,969,000 acres projected. Texas will once again pace the nation in cotton production, as survey respondents indicated a whopping 7,158,000 acres will be planted in the Lone Star State.

Georgia producers will lead the way in the Southeast, with the cotton community in the Peach State indicating that it will see 1,194,000 cotton acres in 2018 – a marginal decrease from the year prior, according to USDA figures.

Mid-South projections peg the region in 2018 as planting almost an identical amount of acreage as it did in 2017, collectively. According to the Cotton Grower survey, the region will plant 1,976,000 acres next year, with Mississippi leading the region in planted acres with a projected 601,000 in cotton.

In the Far West, California appears to be poised to draw back acreage marginally in 2018, with a projected 274,000 total cotton acres – although like elsewhere in the Belt, much will depend on commodity prices over the winter.

No Vacancy

For many of the nation’s key cotton production areas, growers indicated that they’d like to plant even more of the crop, but simply cannot due to limiting factors.

On the High Plains of Texas, for example, high yields and comparably stable commodity prices have increased the appetite for cotton acreage in 2018. But many growers are finding that when it comes to available land, the region is already at maximum capacity.

“Prices are much more favorable than grains, but many areas are about all cotton now, with not much room for increases,” said Dr. Wayne Keeling, Extension weed specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife.

Elsewhere in the Southwest, infrastructure is the main limiting factor. The Oklahoma cotton community indicated that the state will plant 683,000 acres of cotton in 2018 – up from 580,000 acres the season prior. That number could be even larger, if not for a lack of infrastructure.

“We don’t have the harvesting and ginning infrastructure for a crop this large,” says Dr. Randy Boman, Extension specialist with Oklahoma State University. “Some producers are struggling to find custom harvesters to get the job done (for the 2017 crop.) I am hearing that at least some Oklahoma gins will still be ginning the 2017 crop as late as April or May 2018!”

But there are still areas of the Southwest which could significantly increase cotton production in the 2018 season. Respondents in Kansas again indicated that the availability of dicamba- and 2,4-D-tolerant seed technology will spur more acreage. And in the Upper Gulf Coast and Blacklands regions of Texas, some suspect acreage could be up by as much as 15% in 2018.

A Mixed Bag

Potential acreage gains in the Southwest are likely to be offset by a few corners of the Mid-South and Southeast which could see a reduction in cotton ground in 2018. Respondents in the lower Mid-South region indicated that they could see fewer acres in the coming year, for example.

“Yields were off in 2017,” wrote Darrin Dodds, Extension cotton specialist at Mississippi State University, describing the Magnolia State. “Everyone is financially strapped. (Growers contend with a) continued increase in production costs.”

Across the river, Louisiana respondents shared similar sentiments. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom in the Mid-South in 2017. In Tennessee, a “very good cotton year” has growers poised to increase acreage in 2018, according to University of Tennessee Extension Cotton Specialist Tyson Raper.

“Several factors continue to restrict acreage,” he said, listing harvest capacity on individual operations as a limiting factor. “Still, the commodity again appears to be building momentum (in Tennessee).”

Elsewhere, in the Southeast, North Carolina appears to be poised to make the biggest percentage increase in cotton acreage over the previous year. Growers there indicated a potential jump of some 75,000 acres more than they planted in 2017. Excellent 2017 harvest weather and improved yields were cited as primary factors for the enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, growers in Georgia indicated that they will plant 1,194,000 acres in 2018 – a reduction from the 1,290,000 planted acres the state saw a year prior. Respondents from the Peach State have indicated that a difficult 2017 season, combined with below average yields in some spots, has diminished enthusiasm for the crop.

In the Far West region, California appears poised to reduce acreage slightly in 2018 with a projected planted total (ELS and upland combined) of 274,000 acres, down from 301,000 acres in 2017. The bigger swing here occurs in the shift out of upland varieties and into ELS varieties for the coming season. Some

experts predict the state could cut its upland acreage in half in the 2018 season, while switching that same ground into ELS production.

Overriding Factors

Respondents from nearly every corner of the Cotton Belt cited prices, first and foremost, as the primary factor in whether they will or will not plant the crop in the coming season. As of the end of 2017, in most scenarios, cotton penciled out favorably when compared to competing grain and fruit commodities. Yield potential remained an important factor for nearly all, as well, with 2017 performance weighing heavily on respondents’ minds.

As it does each year, the Cotton Grower Acreage Survey affirmed that American cotton producers are highly aware of shifting market forces and agronomic advancements.