U.S. seen growing one of the smallest cotton crops in decades

U.S. farmers will plant one of the smallest cotton crops in two decades in 2013 as the fibre loses a battle for acreage to the more buoyant grains market, according to a Thomson Reuters poll.

Ahead of the Beltwide Cotton conference here this week, an informal survey of market participants showed that American farmers are expected to sow 10.36 million acres of cotton in the spring, down 16 per cent from 12.36 million in 2012.

Another double-digit percentage drop this year would take acreage to its third lowest since 1987, behind 2008 and 2009, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture archives. It would also be nine per cent below the five-year average and more than a fifth under the average of the past 10 years.

Fluctuations are not uncommon from one year to the next as farmers gravitate to the most profitable crops.

But the alarming speed and rate at which farmers may shift out of cotton are likely to underscore some concerns that the wild price swings of the past four years may have done long-term damage to growers’ appetite for fibres.

While prices have stabilized since 2011, farmers may still be “disenchanted” after struggling to sell their crops amid fluctuating prices and record volatility, said Sharon Johnson, cotton specialist at Knight Capital.

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