Kansas cotton gins, not surprisingly, are urging growers to have patience as they gear up to gin a cotton crop that has grown by leaps and bounds, with this year’s harvest at an estimated 800% increase from just five years ago.
The harvest had just hit full swing with bales and modules just beginning to pile up the gin yards when the season’s first deep freeze arrived — along with the first measurable snowfall of the year on Nov. 10, about three to four weeks earlier than normal for central Kansas.
In the Wichita area, more snow had fallen by Veterans Day than the region saw during the entire winter of 2017-18. While that delighted kids who had a chance to break out their sleds on a holiday from school, it was not so enjoyable for farmers trying to finish up the wet harvest of soybeans, milo and cotton.
For cotton growers particularly, the snow was just one more "wet" threat to a crop already challenged by soggy conditions.
Unlike grain crops, cotton remains in the field — or in the outdoors at the gins — for a long time after it’s harvested. While plastic wraps on modules or round bales do help protect it from the elements, if it is too wet when harvested there can be sprouting of seed inside the bale, which creates a mess in the gin and a challenge to quality.
At the same time, the cotton yields in fields harvested ahead of the snow have been amazing, with yields around 1,200 to 1,600 pounds per acre on dryland fields. Many farmers were waiting to get started because bolls were slow to open and not all leaves had dropped.
Rex Friesen, crop consultant and public relations manager for the Southern Kansas Cotton Growers Association, says the cold snap following the snowfall, with nighttime lows falling into the low teens, should take care of any maturity issues.
Friesen warned harvesters to be patient about waiting for the cotton to fully dry out from the latest deluge, however, because harvesting too wet can create big problems, especially in bales that are going to be sitting for several weeks.
Ginning had not yet started as of the beginning of the second week of November, but Friesen says it would get underway as soon as possible but predicted a "marathon" for both harvesting and ginning this year.
He urged growers to check into the potential for obtaining a "seedcotton loan" through the county Farm Service Agency office. As soon as cotton is put into a module or a round bale, it is eligible for loan.
"For growers who need to get paid as soon as possible, that could be the best option," Friesen says.
Friesen also says to make sure modules are shaped to shed water, and to remember if modules are waiting for pick up from the field when it rains.
"I strongly recommend growers check modules in the field after a rain and sweep out any puddles on the tops of the modules," Friesen says. "Any water left standing on top the tarps when percolate into the module over time and result in ugly brown or black lint that grows mushrooms and germinates seed."
It is also important to be careful where you build modules or place bales, avoiding low spots, terraces and tight spots.