Cotton harvest winds down, food industry optimistic for bigger crush and more cottonseed oil

Higher-than-expected yields may improve the supply of the stable cooking oil.

As cotton harvesters make their final passes through fields seemingly bursting with white cotton candy, ginners and crushers await sweet news: bonus cotton yields. Higher-than-expected yields per acre in 2007 could produce a larger cottonseed crush, meaning more cottonseed oil to satisfy the food industry's craving for trans-free oils.

"Ever since New York City banned trans fats in restaurants in July 2006, we've seen a growing demand for stable, healthy cooking oils, like cottonseed oil," says Ben Morgan, executive director of the National Cottonseed Products Association (NCPA), Cordova, Tenn. Cottonseed oil is a highly stable oil that does not require hydrogenation, the process that produces artificial trans.

Cotton plantings were down 20 percent in 2007, but a new report shows higher cotton yields are making up for some lost ground. On November 23, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast domestic cottonseed production to reach 6.54 million tons in 2007, up 252,000 tons from the October estimate of 6.29 million tons. NCPA's Morgan, who tracks the cottonseed crush on a weekly basis, reports that while numbers earlier in the season were tracking behind the prior year, "we're on a pace to potentially catch up to last year's crush of 2.6 million tons."

Morgan adds that cottonseed oil production will likely be below levels of the past two years, but only 10 percent below the five-year average.

Morgan says cottonseed oil still constitutes a fraction of the total edible fats and oils market, but that the uptick in yield this year will make a difference in helping meet demand.

According to Dr. Bill Pettigrew, a cotton expert with USDA's Agriculture Research Service in Stoneville, Miss., Mississippi Delta cotton yields per acre were better than earlier expected partly "because many farmers, chasing higher grain prices, shifted some of their poorer-performing cotton acres to corn and soybeans. What's left was the good stuff."

For more information on National Cottonseed Products Association and cottonseed oil, contact Heidi Nelson or Amy Dennis at 503-274-0086.

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