Dairies worry about cottonseed supply

A looming global cotton glut and softening demand for textiles have all but stitched up a tighter supply of cottonseed available for dairy cows in 2009.

“Sub-40 cent cotton does not bode well for 2009 cotton acreage, nor is it good news for dairy producers who feed whole fuzzy cottonseed to their high-producing dairy cows,” says Tom Wedegaertner, director of cottonseed research and marketing, Cotton Incorporated.

Wedegaertner estimates only about 4 million dairy cows will have access to whole cottonseed in 2009.

“After the crush, we will have 2 million tons of cottonseed available for feeding. The supply is half what we had two years ago, and it’s not going to get any bigger next year.”

USDA’s November World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates forecast upland cotton production to reach 13.1 million bales, 29 percent below 2007. Growers in Texas, the top cotton-producing state, cited inclement weather, including July’s Category 2 Hurricane Dolly, for lower production and yields. Total forecast cottonseed production for 2008-09 is now 4.6599 million tons, compared to October’s estimate of 4.666 million tons.

Cotton Incorporated economists expect 1.1 million fewer acres of upland cotton to be planted in 2009.

Cottonseed is a premium, energy-dense feedstuff known for its production- and butterfat-boosting effect. Cottonseed grew in popularity among large Western dairies in the 1980s and became widely accessible in the mid-2000s thanks to back-to-back bumper cotton crops.

“We are now looking at a situation where dairy producers need to decide if and how much to continue feeding cottonseed,’ Wedegaertner notes. “Right now, cottonseed is quite reasonably priced. Producers who are logistically situated to take advantage of cottonseed should seriously consider taking delivery if they can.”

Dairy producers should consult with their nutritionist and determine a feeding strategy that works for them, he says. “Feeding high producers 2 to 3 pounds per cow per day is a common strategy recommended by top nutritionists in lean times.”

Buying blue jeans and tee-shirts wouldn’t be a bad strategy either, Wedegaertner says. “The more demand we create for cotton textiles, the more cotton acres we’ll secure, and the more cottonseed there will be available to dairy producers. This holiday season, ask for cotton!”

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