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Drought has cotton crop in shambles

Kansas farmers planted 70,000 acres of cotton, up from 53,000 last year. Some areas received badly needed rain. Most of Lake Altus irrigation allotment already used.

Drought combined with continuous hot winds has made the 2011 cotton crop a shambles in the North Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas area of the Southern Plains.

Dick Cooper, who works for the Plains Cotton Cooperative Association, estimates Kansas farmers planted 70,000 acres of cotton, up from 53,000 last year and 12,000 in northern Oklahoma, up from 8,500 in 2010.

“As in the past, the area west of Pratt, Kansas, and all of southwest Kansas is irrigated and to the east is mostly dryland,” Cooper said. “Planting is complete and most of our crop is up to a good stand. There are pockets where moisture was not sufficient to germinate seed, but in general, the crop is off to a good start. Most of the irrigated crop in the southwest is at the three-leaf stage and is making rapid progress with the 100-degree heat we are having.

"The dryland areas in the eastern areas will need timely rains to achieve average yields as subsoil moisture remains limited,” he said. “Moisture is non-existent in the southwest except for irrigation. We will have some dryland cotton this year.”

Mike Berry, manager of the Cotton Growers Cooperative gin in Altus, Okla., said most cotton growers have used up the six inches of water allotted to them this year. “Some rain fell north of Altus last week, a little in the Blair region. Before we used the six inches allotted, Lake Altus was about half full at 47,000 acre feet. After the six inches was used up, there is only 30,000 acre feet of water left in the lake. There will have to be a lot of rainfall in the watershed north of the lake to help out this year."

Jeannie Hileman, manager of the Farmers Cooperative gin at Carnegie, Okla., said cotton farmers in that part of Caddo County have received some badly-needed rain "enough to allow us to hold on a little longer."

"Our cotton growers here have planted 25,000 acres, double the acreage last year," she said. "About half of the late-harvested irrigated wheat around here has been planted to cotton."

Craig Bolton, manager of the Tri-County Gin east of Chattanooga, Okla., estimated some 20,000 acres of cotton have been planted in the area. "Farmers are still planting; about 20 percent of it is up. We received some rain last week, but it was scattered around the area. Next week will tell the story on how well the crop will do."

Rodney Sawatsky, manager of the Midwest Farmers, Inc., gin at Clinton, says a lot of cotton has been planted in the region with some of it growing well and some of it in trouble. "We have gotten some rain, but it has been very scattered," he said. "Farmers are still planting cotton. We just have to wait to see if any more rain will come our way soon."

Jamie Snider, manager of the Harmon County Cooperative gin at Hollis, says at least 15,000 acres of cotton have been planted there. "A lot of our cotton has been planted with center pivot irrigation,” he said. “Farmers here are worried about how strong their wells will stay without any rainfall to help water the cotton. Some of them may have to recharge their wells to keep enough water flowing to water the cotton."

David Lingle, manager of the Tillman Producers Cooperative gin south of Frederick, said farmers are still planting cotton. "Farmers have had real difficulty getting a stand of cotton, even in the irrigated fields," he said. "Hot winds have wilted the young plants. Farmers with pivot irrigation started watering back in March to get enough subsoil moisture to get the crop going. But the wind, blowing continuously at 40 miles per hour, has sucked surface moisture away from the young cotton. The hot wind won't let the cotton grow enough to let the tap root get down to the subsoil moisture."

TALKIN' COTTON is produced by NTOK Cotton, a cotton industry partnership which supports and encourages increased cotton production in the Rolling Plains of North Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. For more information on the cotton scene, see and For comments or questions about Talkin' Cotton, contact [email protected].

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