Is Our 2017 Acreage Estimate Too Low?

From Cotton Grower Magazine – January 2017

Beck Barnes 2015 Web(3)


The Cotton Grower Acreage Survey is easily the most unique feature I’ll work on in the course of the year. For one, it requires a ton of math. This is not my strong suit. Luckily for me, we have multiple copy editors here at the magazine.

But the acreage survey also requires a great deal of audience engagement and outreach on our part. It relies entirely on the participation of our readers and listeners. And the survey requires that our respondents – hundreds of them spread across the 17 states of the Cotton Belt – respond sincerely. Sometimes they clearly do not.

Every year there are a very small (though not insignificant) number of acreage survey participants who clearly have an axe to grind – and they use their acreage estimate to do so. Some will write in that our acreage projection can only hurt farmers and help the market forces that drive prices down (I dispute this for a whole host of reasons – not least of which that American acreage estimates do nothing to move the price needle while millions of bales sit in Chinese warehouses.)

There are also those who state plainly that they are low-balling their acreage estimates in an effort to discourage high seed prices from the seed companies. That seems like a particularly weird means to an end, but hey, I’m not the one spending thousands on seed inputs every season. So I won’t knock our enterprising respondents.

To be sure, the vast majority of participants in our acreage survey do so with well thought out, honest opinions. So I trust that our final estimate for 2017 – 10,887,075 acres nationwide – will be pretty darn close to accurate when final planted acreage totals are announced by USDA in 2017.

But there’s an interesting bit of context to note with this year’s survey. Almost all of the farmers who responded gave a more conservative acreage estimate than did the Extension, association and allied industry respondents. Given the nature of Extension and association work, I tend to believe those folks have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in our market on a macro level. Meaning I generally trust that Extension folks are able to see the forest for the trees when it comes to U.S. cotton.

So while I trust our acreage projection will be close to accurate, if I was forced to choose, I’d take the over on cotton acreage in 2017. And to be clear, I’d love to see much more cotton in this country next season.

We think our acreage survey provides a valuable service to our industry, and it offers a significant glimpse into the health of cotton in America. If our estimate holds true, or if it proves lower than what actually transpires next season, it could mean great things for American cotton in 2017 and beyond.