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Kansas Growers Focus on Cotton's Potential

December 27, 2013

By AMY BICKEL, The Hutchinson News

Tom Lahey had high hope for his cotton crop as it emerged this summer on his southwest Kansas farm.

Early signs showed it should have been a bumper one.

By mid-July, however, he realized something was terribly wrong.

He and others across southwest Kansas are estimating they lost 40% to 50% of their cotton due to 2,4-D drift from farmers spraying the herbicide on their milo crops, The Hutchinson News reports.

"In all the years we planted (cotton), this is the worst," Lahey said of spray drift, but he stressed his damaged crop wasn't a result of poor management by his neighbors.

"It was just a perfect storm that caused it to happen," he said.

Lahey, who serves on the board of the Northwest Cotton Growers gin at Moscow, said he expects almost every cotton acre in his corner of the state to see yield declines. He estimated the cooperative to gin 60% to 65% of the crop they were expecting in June.

According to Kansas State University, cotton is one of the crops most susceptible to 2,4-D. Humidity and wind speed can cause it to spread to fields several miles away. Some formations of the chemical can move as a vapor.

The spray drift damage, however, is just one of several hits to the Kansas cotton industry, which has been struggling to regain acreage since it spiked at more than 115,000 acres in 2006. The crop touted for its profit margin and lower water use continues to lose acreage to corn and other commodities.

Farmers planted more than 4 million acres to corn last spring, compared to the 26,000 acres of cotton that will be harvested this fall. According to the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service, acreage is down more than 50% from last year.

Last week, the agency also estimated Kansas cotton production at 37,000 bales, down 47% from last year.

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