If you're a cotton producer and your farm is in Texas, then you probably know that cotton is king in the Lone Star State, and has been for a long time. On average, Texas produces about five million acres of cotton each year. That's about one-half of all the cotton acres in the United States.
It's no surprise that Texas tops the nation in cotton production. Cotton is the leading cash crop in the state each year, generating about $2.2 billion in crop value last year. The over-all economic impact from cotton and the many products it creates has been estimated to be as high as $24 billion annually.
While the history and significance of cotton in Texas is fairly well known, especially among old timers and rural folk, it is surprising how much we can forget so quickly.
Jason P. Ott, county Extension agent for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Nueces County, in a published report this week, put the spotlight on Texas cotton, especially in Nueces County and the Texas Coastal Bend.
While early cotton harvest in South Texas has kept ginners hustling to keep up, it marks only the beginning of what is expected to be a robust year for yield and quality.
HARVEST WINDING DOWN
"With around 80-percent of over 130 thousand acres [in Nueces County] planted to cotton and already harvested, many growers have [reported]cotton yields in the three bales per acre range in certain fields and some at or near four bales an acre," Ott said.
The value of agricultural income in Nueces County was estimated to be about $150 million last year—nearly half from cotton production.
"The strong cotton yields should help offset the slump in prices currently being paid for cotton and grain. Budgets prepared by Extension economists estimate growers will spend around $623 per acre to grow a cotton crop and projected a return of around $22 per acre over those costs," Ott noted.
While Nueces County and neighboring San Patricio County are both ranked in the top 12 of the 120 Texas counties that produce cotton annually, cotton production across Texas stretches far and wide. The top twelve counties include Lubbock, Crosby, Hale, Lynn, Hockley, Floyd, Terry, Dawson, Gaines, Lamb, San Patricio, and Nueces. Production regions include the High Plains, the Rolling Plains, the Blacklands, the Coastal Bend and Upper Coast region, the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and Far West Texas.
According to Texas AgriLife Extension, from the High Plains to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, each region differs vastly in the approaches to cotton production due to variations in climate, soil type, percentage of the crop that is irrigated, pests, and harvest techniques.
In June, USDA estimated cotton planted acres for 2016 at about 5.65 million acres. American Pima acres in Far West Texas were estimated at 252,000 acres, up 30 percent from 2015. While actual cotton production estimates for this year are difficult to calculate this early in the harvest process, many agree that total production could exceed 5.4 million acres of harvested fiber this year Overall, cotton production, including fiber, seed and oil, should benefit the Texas economy this year to the tune of $2.8 billion.
CONNECTING TO KING COTTON IN TEXAS
If you're a Texan, even if you don't farm cotton, it's still a viable part of our collective history. At one point during the U.S. Civil War, for example, more cotton was shipped through Texas to ports around the world than from any other point of origin.
Here are a few other "cotton facts" you may not know or have forgotten, compliments of Jason Ott:
- Cotton has been a major crop in Texas for more than a century. Since 1880, Texas has led all states in cotton production in most of those years.
- Most of the Texas cotton crop is exported. China, Turkey, Mexico, and various Pacific Rim countries are major buyers. With the continuing development of fiber-spinning technology and the improved quality of Texas cotton, the export demand for Texas cotton has grown.
- Spinning techniques can efficiently produce high-quality yarn from relatively strong, short or longer staple upland cotton with fine mature fiber.
- The value of cotton only increases as it moves off the farm and up the production chain. While cotton lint is the most valuable of the products a cotton farmer sells, it only accounts for about 35 percent to 40 percent of the harvested crop.
- At the cotton gin, the seed cotton is dried, cleaned, and the seed and fiber are mechanically separated. Each round module of seed cotton weighs about 5,000 pounds; of that, around 3,000 pounds will be cottonseed. A ton of whole cottonseed costs about $240.
- A ton of cottonseed can be crushed and separated into three products: oil, meal and hulls. A ton of cottonseed will produce about 320 pounds of oil, which has the greatest value of the three cottonseed products. Cottonseed oil is a common component of many food and cosmetic items.
- About 1,400 pounds of meal and hulls will be produced from one ton of cottonseed. These are used as feed for livestock, poultry, fish feed, and fertilizer. Whole cottonseed can also be feed to cattle without processing and it is high in energy, protein, phosphorus, and fiber.
- Gossypol in cottonseed limits its use as a human food source. Even the oil must be refined to remove gossypol, but once refined is desirable to many cooks because of its relatively high smoke point as a frying medium. Consumers trying to avoid trans fats have helped increases demand for cottonseed oil, which retails for about $10 per gallon.
The remaining one-third or so of the round module is lint, the ginned cotton fiber. Once ginned, lint is baled and sent to textile mills to be turned into fabric and yarn. A ginned cotton bale weighs around 480 pounds.