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Cotton acres up, market strong as Kansas producers evaluate current production

Alice Mannette
HutchNews.com
A tractor pulls cotton bales on a trailer at Southern Kansas Cotton Growers in Anthony. Cotton industry experts across the state agree that cotton acres are up, yield is down, but the market holds steady.

Although Kansas is not up there with Texas, Georgia or the Carolinas in terms of producing cotton, the Sunflower State is holding its own.

“This year Kansas was the only state in the nation that increased cotton acres,” said Rex Friesen, Ph.D., a consultant for the Southern Kansas Cotton Growers.

Although acreage is up, yield is down. This is due to a cooler summer and an early freeze. These temperatures seemed to affect the maturity level of some of the crops.

“We’re down a little bit (in bales) because yield was not as good as last year,” Friesen said.

The 2020 cotton acreage came in at just under 200,000, with last year's totaling 175,000.

Even though yield decreased, the four Kansas cotton gins are pleased with both the acreage and the amount of bales produced. Kansas gins are located in Anthony, Moscow, Pratt and Winfield, Kan. They are planted where much of Kansas cotton is produced, in Cowley, Harper, Pratt and Stevens counties. Southern Kansas Cotton Growers runs the gins in Anthony and Winfield.

“This year was a little up in acreage,” said David Lingle, the general manager of Next GINeration cotton gin in Pratt. “There were about 13,000 more bales than last year.”

The gins in Anthony, Pratt and Winfield brought in more cotton than last year. Anthony and Winfield expects to produce more than 130,000 bales. While Next GINeration in Pratt expects to bring in about 45,000 bales, as does the Northwest Cotton Co-op in Moscow, Kan.

“We’re going full board,” said Gary Feist, general manager of Southern Kansas Cotton Growers and the president of the Kansas Cotton Association. 

Because of the rain in central and eastern Kansas, some cotton growers have not yet picked their cotton. The gins in Anthony, Pratt and Winfield expect to run through late February.

The gin in Moscow is just about finished. Although the acres were good statewide, the gins and farmers were a little disappointed in the yield.

“Yields were down,” said Jon Nesler, manager of Northwest Cotton Growers Co-op Gin in Moscow, Kansas. “Grades were down.”

Although the crop is labor intensive, due to pests, and requires more work than some crops, the profits can exceed those of other standard commodities grown in Kansas. Cotton requires less rain than many commodities and can withstand the Kansas summers.

“It’s (cotton) a viable option,” Nesler said. “It takes a lot of management, but you have weed control with cotton.”

According to the USDA, the U.S. is the world’s third largest cotton producer.

“The price of cotton is up right now,” Friesen said. “So the industry is doing well.”

Next year

Friesen and Lingle think next year’s acreage will either stay around the same or decrease slightly. Because other commodities vie for farmer’s attention, each producer must look at the bottom line.

“Our acreage might be down for next year because of higher commodity prices,” Lingle said.

Nesler said the high price of corn might turn some farmers away from cotton and back to corn. But both Lingle and Friesen are hopeful.

“It doesn’t sound like we’re going to take a hit on acers so far as it stands,” Friesen said. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

History

Cotton crops spot the land in the bottom third of the state, with Pratt and Cowley counties yielding some of the highest numbers.

Although cotton was grown in the U.S. during the late 1800s, it later disappeared from most of the state's landscape. But the 1995 Farm Bill changed the crop’s trajectory in Kansas. In 1996, the first modern cotton gin was built in Winfield, ginning more than 4,000 bales that year.

High cost of equipment

Nowadays, cotton is stripped by machine. The fluffy white fiber is put into bales and covered with yellow or pink plastic. Each bale is numbered. During the ginning process, fibers are separated and pressed into new bales. Samples are sent to the USDA for grading.

Friesen said he is seeing more farmers invest in cotton harvesting equipment. To him, this investment means these producers expect to stick with the crop for the long term.

With the price of cotton strippers costing more than half a million dollars, many farmers grow the crop but higher out for harvest.

Jake Anderson, a farmer in Anthony, said he did not grow cotton this year, as he likes to rotate his crops. When he does grow cotton, though, he hires out someone to strip his field.

But that does not mean he does not obtain money from cotton. Throughout the season, which runs from fall through late February, Henderson travels to other counties, hauling bales of cotton back to the gin in Anthony.

A“It’s a nice little winter extra cash deal,” Henderson said. “I just put it on my loader and bring it to the gin.”