Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas will see significant increases in cotton acreage this season, with Kansas posting a 40 percent jump, Oklahoma up as much as 16 percent and Texas, the largest cotton producing state in the country, expecting a 6 percent increase.
A recent report from CoBank, a national cooperative bank serving rural America, identifies five major factors driving the boom: Unprofitable prices for grain crops, declining water availability, round-bale harvesters, better genetic varieties of cotton, and the increased optimism about cotton reentering the farm bill.
Extension cotton specialist in the three states mostly agree with the March 29 USDA estimates, but Oklahoma and Kansas could plant more, they say.
Oklahoma State Extension cotton specialist Seth Byrd, still settling into the position he took on this spring following Randy Boman’s retirement, says Oklahoma farmers might plant a bit more than the 16 percent estimated by USDA back in March. Byrd expects Oklahoma acreage to top 700,000, an uptick from the USDA March estimate of 680,000.
“From all accounts I've heard, Oklahoma could get to 700,000 acres, with others predicting 750,000. I've even heard some project we'll reach 800,000 acres or even more,” said Byrd. “My guess, we'll end up somewhere in the middle, between 700,000 and 750,000.”
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension state cotton specialist Gaylon Morgan says USDA’s 6 percent acreage estimate should be accurate.
Most of the cotton in South and Central Texas has already been planted, and Morgan says, even with the bulk of the acreage—the plains areas—yet to be planted, farmers are not likely to change their minds at this late date. He says despite drought conditions, severe to exceptional, persisting or expanding from the Rolling Plains into the northernmost reaches of Texas cotton country, cotton still offers a better opportunity than other crops.
“We may see some growers switch to less expensive seed,” he said.
Morgan also expects few first-time growers or an expansion into non-traditional production areas. “We have seen double-digit acreage percentage increases in several zones,” he adds. “The Blacklands and the Gulf Coast are up double digits. But across the state, a 6 percent acreage increase is still what we expect.”
USDA estimates Texas farmers will plant 7.3 million acres in 2018.
Stewart Duncan, Kansas State University Extension soils and crop specialist, expects Kansas acreage may jump to 125,000 to 150,000 acres, with some observers anticipating as much as 200,000 acres in cotton.
Duncan says cotton pencils out better for many southern Kansas grain farmers. Technology also plays a role with better short-season varieties, dicamba-tolerant varieties and the round-bale harvesters that streamline harvesting.
He says the acreage increase in Kansas will mostly come from “traditional cotton-producing areas – near the four gins.” He also expects “a northward expansion of one to two counties from the traditional areas."
“One of my colleagues has run some historical (30-year) county weather numbers and calculated potential yields and probabilities for a profitable crop as far north as the Larned and Great Bend areas of Kansas. That's between 38 and 39 degrees north latitude,” he says.
Most of that acreage will be irrigated, he adds, and will replace corn. Dryland acres likely will take ground away from grain sorghum.
Byrd says a lot of Oklahoma’s cotton will be grown in the traditional southwestern area, “but, similar to the Lubbock area, it may be tough to squeeze in a lot more cotton down there. The areas I'm hearing about that will witness the most growth are the panhandle (with a significant portion of the panhandle being dryland), and areas stretching east and north of Altus, and then north of I-40, even as far north as the Kansas border.”
He adds, in those expanding areas, “we're likely going to have some producers who haven't grown cotton in several years (maybe decades), as well as a good number who are going to be new to the crop either this year or within the last three years.”
Byrd says he’s not sure how cotton will mesh with other cropping plans.
“I'm still a little too new to know for sure if this new acreage will displace wheat, or is being planted in place of another summer crop like corn or sorghum, and if so, if that will end up displacing wheat that would normally follow a summer crop, due to the longer duration of the cotton season, compared to other summer options,” he says.
“However, I have been told by several wheat [industry] folks who have spoken with their producers that they are planning on planting at least some cotton in 2018.”
An analysis from CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange Division indicates cooperatives in these three states are considering ginning and storage capacity increases. But the No. 1 question is the sustainability of the crop in these regions.
“However cotton is included in a crop rotation, the underlying infrastructure investments and the long-term economics compared to other crops show cotton is sustainable in these typically grain-dominated areas,” says Ben Laine, a senior industry analyst with CoBank.
CoBank provides loans, leases, export financing and other financial services to agribusinesses and rural power, water and communications providers in all 50 states.