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The Future for Cotton

Cotton is a key crop for Southern agriculture and, like many other commodities in the South, is heavily export dependent. Unlike other commodities, we reimport a lot of cotton in the form of textiles which makes export demand more closely tied with U.S. import demand for finished goods. With economic and geopolitical uncertainty abound, some reflection on the cotton market and its risk exposure is helpful in long-term planning.

Cotton is a global commodity.  While the U.S. is a major export supplier to the world, there are many other major growers. A drought in the High Plains of Texas has implications for U.S. total output but may not drastically change cotton prices. Brazil, India, China, Australia, and Africa all impact price as well and so global events (and weather) are key factors in the observed market price.

Geopolitical concerns. China has been a key buyer of U.S. cotton but China’s strategic interests may not align with the U.S. over time. Cotton has been proactive at finding other buyers (Bangladesh and Vietnam for example), which is a good thing. The war in Ukraine indirectly impacts cotton through fertilizer and chemical prices and dislocations in prices in other competing commodities. So geopolitical concerns drive policy and prices but so far cotton has been ahead of the curve.

Long-term projections. Long-term projections are often not worth much and in the case of this year the projections in Figure 1 were made before the Ukraine invasion. The story? Not much reason to expect a lot of change from the long-term average. The reality? There is a lot of uncertainty about geopolitical and weather events that will result in price volatility. Future relations with China are the one variable that gives cotton the most heartburn, but our supply chains are slowly adjusting to the new global reality.

Figure 1. Long-term Baseline Projections

Source: International Center for Agricultural Competitiveness, Texas Tech University, 2022 Baseline Projections.
Note: Estimates were prepared before the Ukraine invasion.

Hudson, Darren. “The Future for Cotton“. Southern Ag Today 2(15.4). April 7, 2022. Permalink

Professor and Combest Endowed Chair for Agricultural Competitiveness
Texas Tech University