Cotton in Kansas

Heather O’Hara
Principal Research Analyst

Meredith Fry
Research Analyst

Cotton Production in Kansas

Cotton was introduced in Kansas in the 19th century. Though it has never been a mainstream crop in the state’s agriculture sector, Kansas currently ranks 14th nationwide in cotton production.

Additionally, production has been steadily increasing. Since 1996, cotton production and ginning in the state has expanded, with more than 220 active cotton growers producing 2.4 million cotton bales in the last 26 years.

Infrastructure and Improvements

Kansas cotton production has increased partially due to the expansion of critical infrastructure, which includes four cotton gins in Anthony, Cullison, Moscow, and Winfield, and two warehouses in Clearwater and Liberal that can store cotton until it is sold. Millions of dollars have been invested in expanding the four gin locations and building the second warehouse in Clearwater in recent years.

What is a Cotton Gin?

The cotton gin is a machine that separates the fiber from the plant. “Ginning” is the process of using the machine to remove seed and debris from the fiber and compressing the fiber into cotton bales that are then sold for further processing into cotton textiles.

Why Do Farmers Grow Cotton?

Water. Cotton is drought-tolerant and does not require as much water to produce compared to corn and soybeans. In discussions at legislative committee meetings, various legislative agricultural tours, and the 2022 Kansas Ag Growth Summit (Summit), farmers stated they decided to grow cotton because they are interested to learn about the plant and want to see if it would be successful as a non-irrigated crop, perhaps outside irrigation crop circles. Other farmers discussed the current drought situation and water availability going forward.

Climate. Cotton thrives in hot temperatures and requires consistent heat with summer rainfall.

Crop Rotation. Some cotton growers in southwest Kansas include cotton as part of their crop rotation, which provides soil health, weed management, and other benefits.
Value-added Agriculture. The debris separated from the fiber can be sold as supplemental livestock feed, mulch, or compost, which is a value-added agriculture practice that avoids waste.

What Are the Barriers to Growing Cotton?

2,4-d Loss. Cotton is one of the more susceptible specialty crops to 2,4-d, which is a widely used herbicide that is also used as a pesticide on traditional row crops. It was announced during the Cotton Sector Breakout Session at the Summit that 2,4-d resistant seed has been developed for the Kansas climate and will be available in the future.

Infrastructure. At the Summit, it was discussed that there is a need for more cotton acres to be planted – currently, the infrastructure outweighs the amount of cotton being grown. However, should additional cotton acres be grown, the state’s ginning capacity could be easily overwhelmed.

Costs. The cost of machinery to produce cotton can be prohibitive. A large number of acres would need to be planted in order to justify the purchase of harvesting machinery. New cotton growers usually employ a traveling cotton custom processor from Oklahoma or Texas to pick their cotton crop.

A new John Deere cotton picker can cost up to $600,000, compared to a new John Deere combine that can cost around $450,000.

Out-of-state Warehouses. At the Summit, frustration was expressed that some Kansas cotton growers send their ginned cotton to warehouses in Oklahoma and Texas instead of the two Kansas locations. Local economies miss out on the dollars that are spent by truckers hauling the cotton bales from the cotton gins.

International Trade. At the Summit, it was stated that because of some international relations, there is some difficulty finding export customers for U.S. cotton.

A document provided at the Cotton Sector Breakout Session at the Summit stated that according to the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service, the top five export customers of raw cotton fiber in 2021 were Turkey, China, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Portugal.

However, the document stated that export potential exists for any country experiencing growth in its gross domestic product.

Kansas Cotton Boll Weevil Act

Boll weevils are a pest that feeds on cotton plants and live in Mexico and southern Texas. While not a current threat to Kansas cotton, a boll weevil outbreak can happen quickly and is devastating. Because Kansas has increased its cotton acres in recent years, other cotton growing states requested that Kansas create its own boll weevil program to manage a potential outbreak.

Boll weevil photo.

A boll weevil. Photo by Steve Ausmus, USDA/ARS.

The 2022 Legislature passed HB 2559, which establishes the Kansas Cotton Boll Weevil Act and creates the Kansas Cotton Boll Weevil program. The bill authorizes a board to administer and implement the program, and authorizes the implementation of a boll weevil eradication plan with the Secretary of Agriculture.

The bill also authorizes the board to annually set an assessment per cotton bale at an amount not to exceed $2.