Cotton production in Northern Oklahoma and Kansas continues to be profitable and expand in spite of the crippling effect of the recent drought, says Dick Cooper, director for business development for the Plains Cotton Cooperative Association.

Located at Liberal, Kan., Cooper is responsible for cotton marketing and market development in Kansas and all of Oklahoma north of Interstate 40.

“Realistically,” he says, “we do not see any increase in irrigated cotton production for 2007 in this area. The advantage cotton has had in irrigated production will not be in play in the short term. Basically, this is due to the tremendous interest in biofuels production. But dryland cotton is still competitive and we expect to see these acres continue to grow.”

Cooper says by Jan. 1 the region's 2006 cotton crop was 95 percent harvested and 55 percent ginned.

“Cotton farmers in Kansas and the seven northern Oklahoma counties planted 125,000 acres of cotton in 2006,” he says, “a 40 percent increase over 2005.

“Even with the severe drought, the area's cotton crop will average the second highest per acre yield, 567 pounds, as well as the highest quality grades in the history of production in this region.”

In 2006, 226 new farms produced cotton. Even with the 2006 drought cotton production in this area marks 11 years of consistent, sustainable growth.

“New crop cotton futures have not responded to cotton acreage reduction to the degree we expected,” Cooper says. “Eventually, the market will respond to decreased cotton production and prices will improve.”

Cooper believes this region may increase total production in 2007 even with fewer acres.

There are many reasons for the rapid development of cotton farming in Kansas and northern Oklahoma.

“Sound economics, water conservation, effective crop rotation systems, along with time and labor efficiency have made these 11 years a real success story,” Cooper says.

Other factors include experience-gained management expertise, better cotton genetics and establishment of a highly developed ginning, warehousing and transportation infrastructure.

“With support systems in place at each of the five gin locations and the support of state associations like the Kansas and Oklahoma cotton associations, entry level risk has been greatly reduced from a few years ago.”

‘Pioneer spirit’

Establishing cotton as a viable crop in this area called on the “pioneer spirit” of farm leaders who risked time, energy and capital, Cooper says. Risks included building five cooperative cotton gins.

“These plants are modern, multi-million-dollar facilities that require tremendous working capital. Need for capital and ability to forecast growth necessary to service debt was a major challenge in those early years as traditional lenders had no knowledge or experience in cotton production or ginning.

“For some, just the decision to grow a high management, high input crop was the biggest challenge. The current success of this industry rests on the shoulders of early growers with good business sense, determination and respect of their neighbors.”