Oklahoma turn rows and gin yards are littered with modules from a “monster” cotton crop — a crop that USDA estimates will be 1.1 million bales, when it’s all said and done.
“It’s just a monster crop. We had a lot of things align this year,” says Randy Boman, OSU Southwest Research and Extension Center research director and cotton Extension program leader, Altus, Okla. “I just don’t think we could have had a better harvest season with the huge crop. It’s been really dry for several weeks now — that’s not good for the wheat and canola guys— but it’s a Godsend for the cotton, especially with this big crop that we’ve got.”
And while this crop may be the largest since 1933, its success has created some challenges.
On average the gins are ginning about 35,000 bales per week but to finish this crop Oklahoma farmers may find themselves planting their 2018 crop while still waiting on the 2017 one to be ginned. “We have a lot of cotton left to gin. If you do the math on that, say we’ve got a little over 370,000 bales ginned, that means there’s about 730,000 still out there and at 35,000 bales per week that’s 28 weeks. We just don’t have the ginning infrastructure to get this stuff turned around rapidly.
“The biggest challenge will be trying to get this ginned before we start planting next year.”
But if it is not all ginned before the first round on the planter for 2018, Ira Hopkins, senior vice president and chief credit officer at AgPreference, Altus, Ok., says Oklahoma growers have some options.
“There’s going to be some crunch on the cash flow but certainly we’re better equipped knowing that the good crop is out there, than we would be if we were coming off of a poor crop,” says Hopkins. “I believe lenders, and when I say lenders, not just us, commercial banks and maybe some of the folks that carry the seed, I think will come to the plate and be able to handle the situation as far as the cash flow goes. It’s always easier to do that when you know there’s a substantial gross income coming in.”
AgPreference, a part of the farm credit system, is a cooperative lending institution for agriculture. “At our office, we’ve increased loans and extended the loans— because we finance some of the gins and co-ops that are running the gins — we are fully aware that the crop is there but that it’s just going to take a while to get through.”
Another tool to free up cash flow is through the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation Loan, which allows growers to put their cotton into the loan initially at a reduced price. “We’ve actually seen some of our producers go to the USDA CCC loan with their cotton. Those initial advances are at 45 cents, based on how many bales per module and what their cotton has ginned on average. Then once the cotton is ginned, they’ll get another bump on it or by that time they could possibly fully pay that loan back,” Hopkins says. “I wouldn’t say that tool has been widely used to this point, but we have seen some producers use that.”
Before getting this immense crop to the gin, and once growers realized how large it was going to be, Boman says some faced a shortage of harvesting equipment. “I think that a lot of guys saw this thing coming and picked up strippers and pickers from here and there. Overall, after the guys got their own cotton harvested, a lot of them got into the custom business.”
Quantity isn’t the only aspect worth bragging about. The quality of this large crop is as well. “We are running about 93 percent color grades: 11s, 21s and 31s, right now. We’re probably still ginning on cotton that was harvested as a result of harvest aid applications, that’s what’s being classed now. But the further we go into this ginning season, I really anticipate seeing some quality issues show up a lot more than what we’ve got.”
Bark contamination for the more than 350,000 bales classed so far is at 7 percent, “which is good for us,” says Boman. “We actually have a lot of our cotton that is picker harvested in Oklahoma, even a lot of the dryland. Over the last two to three years, our dryland yields have been good enough that the guys have just picked it. You won’t see that every year. But with a lot of pickers running, that helps considerably with bark contamination.”
Uniformity and staple average are outstanding, reports Boman, “We’ve got some pretty high quality cotton coming out, and I think most of this is irrigated and taken before the freeze, which was around Oct. 28, when it got down to 27 degrees.”
While the micronaire has been good on the irrigated acres ginned thus far, Boman worries that some of the dryland acres that got snapped by the freeze may tell a different story. “Again, I think that as we get into this later dryland cotton that got a freeze on it, the low micronaire percentage is going to go up and average mic is going to go down, but I don’t think it’s going to be that many of the bales, maybe 10 percent got hammered by that.”
See Risk management important for growers, Red River Crops Conf. Jan 17-18 http://bit.ly/2B3sxuX
In a state where more and more growers seem to be transitioning from wheat acres to cotton, Boman warns that while farmers were “significantly blessed by the good Lord in 2017,” that’s not always the case in this primarily dryland state.
“Growers need to be really thinking hard, especially folks that have been watching their neighbors. If they’re thinking, ‘I’m going to go do this in 2018,’ they need to really do a bunch of homework, which can begin any time now if they are thinking about growing cotton in 2018. Cotton requires significantly ramped up management compared to other crops”
And having gone three months void of significant moisture, Boman worries the area may be preparing for a repeat of 2011.
“We are dry. After 2011, everyone is always looking over their shoulder. We’re are kind of set up similarly as we were during the winter of 2010 and going into the spring of 2011, and that was after we had all that really good cotton in 2010,” remembers Boman. “The wheat crop was kind of a disaster going into the spring, and because of the dry conditions, we just never got any spring rains. We went into that summer with a huge deficit and then had all that wind and high temperature. I don’t really want to go through that again. I don’t even like to talk about it!”
Other matters of concern in 2018, especially for new growers, are the technology and label issues for dicamba products and Bt cotton. “I told them at the Oklahoma Ag Expo, that if you turn your back on your cotton for a week you could potentially have a train wreck,” says Boman. “It requires a high level of management and I don’t know if we’ve got enough crop consultants to make all that work or not. I’m encouraging new growers or inexperienced growers to get educated and try to find a crop consultant to help them make some of these tough decisions.”
Boman says a great opportunity for new cotton growers to learn more about cotton production and changes in 2018, is at the Red River Crops Conference to be held in Altus, Okla., Wednesday, January 17 and Thursday, January 18. For more information or to register, go to: http://bit.ly/2ziEikf.
Boman says the other thing growers have to do is steward their dicamba applications. “Those labels sunset a year from now, and we don’t want to lose the labels for those dicamba products that are labeled for our XtendFlex cotton. They’ve granted those labels a two-year run and they were going to reassess everything at the end of that and make changes. They may revoke those labels. “
The good news is that both Oklahoma and Texas have seen minimal issues with dicamba off-target movement, adds Boman. “We really need these herbicides. We need them to continue to kind of hold our own against these weed issues, especially against the Palmer amaranth pigweed. It’s a real problem. It developed glyphosate resistance fairly rapidly across the belt. That weed has cost American agriculture a huge amount of dollars.
As for cotton acres in 2018, Boman says, it all depends on the weather. “We could certainly go to three-quarters of a million acres in this state pretty easily. We planted under 600,000 this year. I could easily see another 150,000 acres and it could go more than that. But I don’t know how we’re going to gin it. It takes a lot of time and money to build a new gin.”