ANTHONY – There are many more pairs of cotton underwear growing in south-central Kansas farm fields this year.

There’s a few extra blue jeans, too.

In life, timing is everything. And around Anthony, where farmers have been planting cotton for about two decades, sometimes everything aligns, making the perfect conditions for a bumper crop.

“It is even hard for me to even imagine,” said Gary Feist, the longtime manager of Southern Kansas Cotton Growers, which has gins in Anthony and Wellington. “Some of these fields are almost unbelievable.”

So when cotton strippers began harvesting a crop on a quarter-section dryland field near Anthony, it was soon easy to tell this field was special.

It yielded more than 1,885 pounds an acre, more than double the average yields of 600 to 800 pounds an acre that farmers in this area have seen over the years. A field just across the road yielded 1,700 pounds an acre.

“It is unheard of,” Feist said. “We are trying to find out if any dryland has ever made that good. It is just unreal.”

And there will be several more fields that average 1,300 to 1,400 pounds, he said, adding that he and his staff are predicting an average gin yield of 900 pounds.

A positive boost

The uptick in yields is a positive boost to a crop that has been struggling to regain acreage since it spiked at more than 115,000 acres in 2006. The crop touted for its profit margin and lower water-use lost acreage to corn and other commodities.

The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service estimates cotton production in Kansas at 52,000 bales, up 27 percent from a year ago. The agency also reported last week that cotton acres harvested in 2014 will be up 12 percent, with 29,000 acres cut.

The yield is is forecast at a record 861 pounds per acre. That is 104 pounds per acre more than last year.

Kansas has four cotton gins. Feist’s gins will process more than half of the state’s total, roughly 27,000 to 28,000 bales on 15,000 acres.

“I didn’t think we could beat last year,” said Feist of another good year. “But this year was even better.”

Dan Wilson, who takes his cotton to Anthony’s gin, said he didn’t do anything different this year management-wise. But July’s timely rains helped him have a gin-buster.

He added with a laugh that his neighbors always do better than he does. However, he said, his yields will be well above 1,000 pounds a acre.

“It is a record year,” Wilson said. “I didn’t do anything different, it just happened to rain at the right time. The past two years we’ve had rain” in July.

Roger Sewell, manager of business development for High Plains Cotton, said it wasn’t the most ideal cotton year for his territory in Pratt and surrounding counties. This year’s crop isn’t producing big yields like Feist’s area, but it is above average. He’s hoping his gin processes 11,000 bales this year.

“I’m not disappointed in it,” he said. “We just needed a few more acres like always.”

Hope for new cotton resistance

In southwest Kansas, drifting of 2,4-D, an herbicide, is still an issue, said farmer Tom Lahey, whose cotton crop was largely damaged by drift last year. It also received some damage this year, as well as hail damage.

His crop is averaging 350 to 500 pounds an acre for dryland cotton. He added that with drought and other damage, it’s been a while since he has had a dryland cotton crop.

Over the years, Kansas farmers have lost thousands of acres of cotton, as well as dollars, due to 2,4-D and dicamba drift. Moreover, multiperil insurance does not cover drift damage, Lahey said.

According to Kansas State University, cotton is one of the crops most susceptible to 2,4-D. Humidity and wind speed can cause it to spread to fields several miles away. Some formations of the chemical can move as a vapor.

Lahey, one of the first in southwest Kansas to try cotton, said he’s not giving up on the crop. In fact, he is optimistic about a potential 2,4-D resistant cotton trait being developed.

Both Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences are working on 2,4-D or dicamba resistant varieties of cotton. Anthony’s Feist said the Dow cotton variety could be available in test plots in 2015, and, perhaps, at an experiment field in Kansas. By 2016, farmers could have access to the variety if everything is approved.

Feist, who said he saw an excellent stand of Dow’s new cotton variety in Texas, said other cotton-producing states have restrictions on 2,4-D use.

“That is one of the reasons that Kansas can be on the forefront of it because we don’t have a 2, 4-D restrictions,” he said.

And, says Sewell, when these varieties are finally available in Kansas, he expects there could be a bountiful increase in cotton acres as producers won’t have to fear losses due to drift.

“With the new advent of 2,4-D cotton, it will be the savior of cotton in Kansas,” he said.

Lahey, one of the first in southwest Kansas to grow cotton, doing so for 15 years, is optimistic, too.

“Our production is going to increase considerably if we can get away (from drift damage,” he said, also adding. “We’re excepting a real yield increase with 2,4-D cotton.”