NEW YORK — El Nino may be fading into the meteorological history books, but growers of pima cotton from California to Texas are still feeling its ruinous legacy.
The weather phenomenon brought unseasonably cool temperatures and heavy rains to much of California this winter and early spring, including the San Joaquin Valley, where 75 percent of the U.S. pima crop originates.
Weather-related delays in planting the 1998 crop will probably cut the total yield, according to the Supima Association, the marketing arm of U.S. growers of extra-long staple (ELS) cotton.
After several delays, California pima was 95 percent planted as of May 1. This was better, though, than the rest of the Pima Belt, in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, which was 90 percent planted by then.
Conditions in the San Joaquin Valley continued to be adverse for cotton, running up to 15 degrees cooler than normal through the end of May.
Growers there planted approximately 180,000 to 185,000 acres, the association said, off about 20 percent from plans that called for plantings totaling 230,000 acres. Furthermore, a portion of the planted acreage has already been lost to disease or flooding, which may eventually cut the harvested area to less than 175,000 acres. In 1997, 184,000 acres were harvested.
Crop progress has been moderate but steady in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. Growers in those regions planted only about 5,000 additional acres, citing flat prices.
New Mexico and Texas also battled cooler, windy conditions, with little rain in March and April. Temperatures regained momentum in Arizona, heading into the 80s and 90s through late May.
The USDA will release its revised U.S. pima planted-acreage estimate on June 30, and growers expect it to fall from the 267,000 acres estimated in March.
“The El Nino-driven weather has cost the U.S. at least 100,000 bales that otherwise would have been produced in California,” said Matt Laughlin, executive vice president of the Supima Association. “And that is 100,000 bales of export sales that will go to Egypt.”
Egypt, which over several years has accelerated its export program, is the world’s largest producer of ELS cotton. According to the International Cotton Advisory Committee, Egypt will begin the 1998-99 marketing year, which starts Aug. 1, with about 900,000 bales in beginning inventory and a stocks-to-use ration of better than 70 percent. The U.S. inventory is 49,000 bales, the lowest on record, and its stocks-to-use ratio of is 8.8 percent, also the lowest ever.
“And though Egypt has said it will be cutting its overall cotton production by about 15 percent, it is increasing production of Giza 86 [a bellwether apparel grade] by 100 percent,” Laughlin said. “Egypt will have more than enough supply to cover any customer needs not met by American pima suppliers.”
A report in early May by the USDA’s World Agricultural Outlook Board estimated domestic use of U.S. pima at 110,000 bales for 1997-98, up from 106,000 bales in 1996-97. However, export sales of U.S. pima were pegged at 450,000 bales, down from 466,000 bales the previous season.

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