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The Future of Cotton Production in Kansas

By Jayci Cave

Kansas CottonFor the past 20 years, cotton has been consistently grown in Southern Kansas. Cotton production and winnings have exceeded 1.1 million bales since 1996 in 26 Southern Kansas counties. However, cotton farmers in Kansas have faced a few challenges that have hindered the expansion of cotton production in their state.

Harvesting equipment requires a significant investment, and many farmers must hire custom harvesters which can delay harvest due to time constraints. Rex Friesen, Ph.D., and crop consultant at Southern Kansas Cotton Growers Cooperative, said John Deere’s recent technological advances will help overcome the equipment barrier.

“One is new technology in the form of John Deere’s CS690 stripper-baler that harvests and ‘packages’ the cotton in one process on the fly,” said Friesen. “This increases the speed of harvest and enables custom harvesters to arrive at individual farmers’ fields on a more timely basis.” Three of the CS690s are scheduled for delivery in Southern Kansas/Northern Oklahoma this year, according to Friesen.

Another serious challenge has been significant yield and quality losses due to herbicide damage from 2,4-D sprayed on other crops upwind from cotton fields; however, new developments are poised to help overcome these challenges. Friesen said advancements in cotton genetics will help decrease the likelihood of cotton quality and yield loss in the coming years.

“Dow AgroSciences has been developing cotton varieties that tolerate 2,4-D as well as a ‘lowerdrift’ formulation of the herbicide,” Friesen said. “This is significant because cotton farmers will no longer suffer yield and quality losses, and their neighbors who grow other crops can go about their normal weed control programs without fear of harming nearby cotton fields.” The new cotton varieties are targeted for release in 2016.

With these advancements paving the way for cotton in Kansas, Dick Cooper, PCCA’s Marketing Communications Area Manager, said it is important to promote cotton to Kansas producers because they will be hesitant to take the steps to grow cotton when they are not knowledgeable about the process of ginning, marketing and warehousing the cotton. He said cotton could be an economical and water-friendly option for producers in Kansas.

“A farmer would like to grow a crop where he has a chance to make a living,” Cooper said, “especially if he can do it economically and get a higher return than any of his other crops. Cotton will be that if we can get rid of 2,4-D damage, and it uses half the water to produce four times the economic impact of corn.”

Zach Hrencher, Marketing Communications Area Manager, said there are two main reasons it is important to promote cotton in Kansas.

“The first being that it is not a traditional crop that some producers are used to growing,” Hrencher said. “The other reason promotion is important is it reminds non-cotton producers to be mindful of what they spray in their neighboring fields.”

Following the extensive drought in 2011, the Kansas governor set out to develop a 50-year water vision for the state. Cooper, the Kansas Cotton Association and other PCCA employees had the opportunity to meet with the governor and his officials on this project and were able to get cotton included as an integral part of the plan because it uses 50 percent less water than corn, and its value per inch of water is four times greater than corn. Consequently, Hrencher said cotton should be considered in Kansas crop rotations.

“Producers should consider growing cotton because it is a deep root crop that would work well with their rotations,” Hrencher said, “and since it is a water conservative crop, it can help slow the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer.” Cooper also said PCCA has been crucial to the growth of cotton production in Kansas.

“We have a 1.1-million-bale history, and I will tell you when we started this nobody believed we could do that,” Cooper said. “We have marketed and warehoused every single bale of that through the PCCA system, and the gins use all of our services including the accounting system and scale tickets. Kansas is represented on PCCA’s pool committee and the warehouse committee and they are well connected to this cooperative. Even though it is a long trip to Lubbock, they attend every meeting without fail.”

Hrencher said the recent rainfall could lead to a decrease in cotton acreage for the 2015 crop, but he is hopeful that the yields will be comparable to last year’s.

“Fortunately, Kansas has received its fair share of rains this spring; however, it has delayed planting,” Hrencher said, “and we could see a decline in acres. Of course, last year we did see yields that were unheard of for dry land, and we hope to see the same this year.”