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US organic cotton crop cut in half by drought

Read the grim details of the 2011 harvest and a prelimary glance at 2012.

U.S. organic cotton production contracted in 2011, due in large part to the sweeping drought in the Southern Plains, according to the 2011 and Preliminary 2012 U.S. Organic Cotton Production & Marketing Trends report conducted by the Organic Trade Association.

The survey, made possible through a grant from Cotton Incorporated, showed that while acres planted to organic cotton rose 36 percent from 11,827 in 2010 to 16,050 in 2011, acres harvested plunged to 6,151—with nearly two- thirds of the planted crop abandoned to drought. As a result, 7,259 bales were harvested in 2011, representing a 45 percent reduction in the overall U.S. organic cotton harvest from the prior year.

Fortuitously, 2011 represented the first crop year in which USDA’s Risk Management Agency offered organic cotton producers purchasing multi-peril crop insurance a price election above that available for conventional producers. This meant that organic farmers could be compensated for crop losses at a rate of $0.37 per pound higher than the rate at which conventional cotton was trading. For example, in an instance where conventional cotton traded for $0.93 per pound, an organic farmer who had opted for the organic price election would have been compensated for lost crops at $1.30 per pound, or nearly 40 percent more than the conventional price. Organic farmers pay a five percent surcharge for multi-peril crop insurance. Cotton was one of only four crops for which an organic price election was available for the 2011 crop year; the others were corn, soybeans and processing tomatoes.

Commercial availability of organic seed is a major hurdle for organic cotton producers. Genetically Modified (GM) seeds have become dominant in the marketplace, as major seed companies have purchased smaller labels and discontinued their organic, non-GM and non-treated cottonseed offerings. Most farmers used at least a portion of their own saved cottonseed from year to year, while others reported having lost their seed stocks due to drought.

A predominance of survey respondents reported receiving $1.50 per pound for organic upland cotton, with prices reaching as high as $3.00 for organic pima cotton. These prices were roughly in line with U.S. organic cotton prices for the past several years. While the U.S. supply of organic cotton was dramatically lessened in 2011, cotton remains one of the most volatile global organic commodities. Thus, while drought conditions severely decreased the U.S. organic cotton supply, the same was not true for all international organic cotton suppliers, some of which were able to deliver organic cotton to the United States. for less than the price of domestic organic cotton.

The Southern Plains drought that devastated the 2011 organic cotton crop continued into 2012. However, it appeared to have taken a less extreme toll on cotton in 2012. While 14,481 acres were planted to organic cotton in the United States. In 2012, final harvest numbers are not yet available.

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