Barring some unforeseen natural disaster, the 2013 cotton crop will be one of the state's best ever, predicts Southern Kansas Cotton Growers Association agronomist Rex Friesen.
Friesen said the crop was hurt in some areas by getting too much rain from mid-July to mid-August, but that overall the rain and cool weather helped the plants gain strength and put on a fantastic boll set.
"It appears for the most part that it will be a really great harvest. I've seen fields that I think will make 2.5 bales to the acre or better," Friesen said.
The one thing the crop lacks is number of acres. It has lagged behind in the competition for planting because of the high prices of corn and soybeans. Kansas growers this year planted about 50,000 acres of cotton, down from about 56,000 acres in 2012.
A drought-hardy crop
Cotton is a drought-hardy and extremely heat-tolerant crop, which makes it work well in the rotation for many farmers in south-central and south-west Kansas. Producers report that wheat planted behind cotton sees a yield bump and no-till farmers like the plant's long tap root which helps break up the hardpan in the subsoil and allows subsequent crops to access deeper moisture.
This year, the crop is behind in maturity because of the cool weather in July.
"Cotton needs those heating degree days to mature. We're going to be about a month behind in harvesting," Friesen said. "What we need is a normal to late first freeze. If that holds off until the end of October or better yet, to the middle of November, we will have a fantastic crop."
Most Kansas farmers plant "stripper" varieties, used primarily to make denim. However, in recent years, some farmers have been experimenting with "picker" varieties which typically have higher yield and higher value. More farmers are also investing in their harvesting equipment rather than relying on custom harvesters to bring in their crop.