Cotton acres are expected to be up sharply in Kansas for the second year in a row, and the growth is beginning to get noticed at the national level.
Kansas farmers doubled the acres they planted in 2017 over 2016, and the March USDA Planting Intentions Report indicates that acres will rise by 40% this year, with about 130,000 acres being planted to cotton.
Oklahoma, too, is sharply increasing cotton acres. Already the fourth largest cotton-producing state, Oklahoma is expected to see acreage increase by 16% to 680,000 acres. Texas, the nation’s largest cotton producer, is expected to see a 6% increase by 7.3 million acres.
During the 2018 Hard Winter Wheat Quality tour in early May, Mark Hodges with the Oklahoma Wheat Commission told participants that wheat lost 200,000 acres to cotton in 2017, and that he fully expects to see another 200,000 acres switched this year.
The rapid growth in Kansas is putting pressure on the state’s gins at Winfield, Anthony, Cullison and Moscow, all of which are farmer-owned cooperatives.
The Southern Kansas Cotton Growers Association modernized their gins at Anthony and Winfield last year, installing new computer touch screens, automating bale strapping and shutdowns and adding enhanced chokepoint and fire detection.
Even with the enhancements, the size of the crop — 92,200 bales at the two gins — strained capacity. Ginning was completed on April 24, which gave the gin crews only six months to tear down, make repairs, replace worn out parts and figure out how to add capacity before the six ginning season begins.
What’s driving the cotton boom?
For the Southern Kansas Cotton Growers Co-op gin at Anthony, “adding” means doubling capacity by installing new steam rollers and adding more cleaning equipment, SKCGA manager Gary Feist told CoBank, which recently produced an analysis on the growth of cotton acres in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Ben Laine specializes in cotton for CoBank. He says that the Northwest Cotton Growers Cooperative in Moscow has a second gin under construction next to the existing one. The new gin will have four gin stands with room to expand to six. The new gin is expected to be ready for this fall’s ginning season.
Oklahoma’s Farmers Cooperative Gin is also expanding, manger Jeannie Hileman told Cobank. The gin’s volume jumped from 40,000 bales in 2014 to 125,000 bales in 2017.
The co-op has broken ground for added ginning capacity on an 80-acre site north of Carnegie, Okla.
Ag Producers Co-Op plans to build a gin in Spearman, Texas, that will be operational in 2019, according to the Cobank report. The new gin will be located northeast of Amarillo and will be able to handle between 80,000 to 100,000 bales a year.
Gins are not the only infrastructure that needs to grow. Warehouses for bales and cottonseed are also expanding.
NEW EQUIPMENT: The Southern Kansas Cotton Growers Cooperative gins at Winfield and Anthony were upgraded with new computer equipment, a fully automated bale belting machine and improved fire detection and automatic shutdown before ginning started in 2017. By the fall of 2018, an expansion that will double capacity at Anthony is expected to be complete.
The Plains Cotton Cooperative Association at Liberal is adding new warehouses. The co-op also owns warehouses in Teas and Oklahoma, and expects to handle 2.2 million bales, up 26% from 2017.
Farmers Cooperative Compress is increasing storage capacity north of Amarillo, and the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill is building a new cottonseed warehousing facility in Altus, Okla.
Cobank’s Laine says all of the planned investments, along with a growing number of producers purchasing their own equipment as opposed to using custom harvesters, is an indication that the growth of cotton in the Southwest is sustainable.
In Kasnas, Feist believes cotton is here to stay.
“Our growth and volume are very sustainable,” he says “We may not see as much growth as we are right now. But even when economics strengthen for other crops, we’ll still retain a percentage of growers producing cotton. It’s a crop they want to grow.”
Fires a growing concern as bales add up
One of the challenges faced in all three Southwest states, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma, was fires at gins and warehouses.
Southern Kansas Cotton Growers Association agronomist Rex Friesen calls 2017 “the season of infamy” when it comes to fire losses.
“I’ve not heard the total numbers for losses but those numbers will be big,” he says. “This fall and winter conditions have been ideal, in a bad way, for yard and gin fires to get started and to spread. Lots of wind is a major culprit.”
Friesen says the industry will be closely scrutinizing ginning, storage and handling systems at every level for ways to reduce the risk of fire.
“I’m also wondering what’s going to happen to insurance rates for next year,” he says.
Be on the lookout for bollworms
Rex Friesen with the Southern Kansas Cotton Growers Cooperative says the discovery that caused him the most concern in 2017 was the presence of significant numbers of bollworms in some Kansas cotton fields.
Friesen, an entomologist by training, a crop consultant and public relations manager for SKCCC, says that event might be huge for cotton growers because it might be an indication that the BollGard2/Widestrike 1 Bt genes are failing to control the worms.
“Most of the cotton we are planting in Kansas does not have the new B3-level Bt protection which can effectively control them,” he says. The Phytogen Elist varieties have the Widestrike 3 which can control them.”
Producers should be keeping a close watch in the fields to see if bollworms, which are the same bug as the corn earworm, show up in fields this summer.
“If the corn earworm moths lay eggs in our cotton like they used to before the BollGard came on the scene, the main egg lay period was around the first week of August. One well-time treatment with a residual insecticide at that point might take care of them,” Friesen says. “At this point there are a lot of ‘ifs.’ I will try to keep everyone informed as the season goes along.”