Kansas growers have been harvesting bumper crops of cotton, giving a much-needed boost to a crop touted for its good profit margin and low water use.
The uptick in yields is a positive sign for cotton, which has been struggling to regain acreage since it spiked at more than 115,000 acres in 2006, The Hutchinson News reported (http://bit.ly/1sPZp06 ).
The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service estimates cotton production in Kansas at 52,000 bales, up 27 percent from a year ago. Cotton acres harvested in 2014 will be up 12 percent, with 29,000 acres cut. The average yield is forecast at a record 861 pounds per acre, or about 104 pounds per acre more than a year ago.
But many fields are averaging far more.
"It is even hard for me to even imagine," said Gary Feist, the longtime manager of Southern Kansas Cotton Growers. "Some of these fields are almost unbelievable."
On a quarter-section dryland field near Anthony, cotton strippers began harvesting a crop that yielded more than 1,885 pounds an acre, more than double the average yields of 600 to 800 pounds an acre. A field just across the road yielded 1,700 pounds an acre, and several more fields averaged 1,300 to 1,400 pounds, Feist said, adding that he and his staff are predicting an average gin yield of 900 pounds.
Kansas has four cotton gins. Feist's gins in Anthony and Wellington will process more than half of the state's total, roughly 27,000 to 28,000 bales.
Dan Wilson, who takes his cotton to the Anthony gin, said he didn't do anything different this year management-wise. But July's timely rains helped him reach yields well above 1,000 pounds per acre. "It is a record year," Wilson said.
In Pratt and surrounding counties, it wasn't the best year for cotton, but yields were still above average, said Roger Sewell, manager of business development for High Plains Cotton. He's hoping his gin processes 11,000 bales this year.
"I'm not disappointed in it," he said. "We just needed a few more acres like always."
Southwest Kansas farmer Tom Lahey said his cotton crop received some damage from drifting herbicides and hail damage and is averaging 350 to 500 pounds an acre for dryland cotton.
Cotton is one of the crops most susceptible to 2,4-D herbicide, according to Kansas State University. Humidity and wind can cause the herbicide to spread to fields several miles away, and some formations of the chemical can move as a vapor. Over the years, Kansas farmers have lost thousands of acres of cotton because of drifting herbicides, which isn't covered by most multi-peril insurance policies.
Lahey was among the first in his area to try cotton, and he's not giving up. In fact, he said is optimistic about a potential 2,4-D-resistant cotton trait being developed by both Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences. Dow could have an herbicide-resistant variety available for test plots next year and farmers could have access to it by 2016 if it is approved for use.
"With the new advent of 2,4-D cotton, it will be the savior of cotton in Kansas," Sewell said.