West Texas cotton will again be off typical production levels as the three-year drought cycle continues to take a toll on yields and harvested acreage. But the cotton in the field and just coming into gins and classing offices looks to be of good quality.
“We have some good cotton out there,” said Steve Verett, executive vice president, Plains Cotton Growers, during a recent Texas Agriculture Council tour  of the West Texas cotton industry. The council is made up of influential agricultural organizations from across Texas and represents a varied array of agricultural interests.
Verett, along with representatives from gins, warehouses, oilseed producers, a cotton mill and the USDA classing office, commented on 2013 production and the importance of cotton to the region during the day-long tour of cotton facilities.
Jerry Butman, Lubbock Cotton Growers cotton gin, said the new state-of-the-art facility, completed in 2009, would likely gin about 40,000 bales this year. That’s down slightly from last year’s 49,000 but a significant improvement over the 20,000 bales the gin handled from the 2011 crop.
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The gin is capable of handling 100,000 bales a year and got fairly close with the 2010 crop, with 82,000. “And our gin is running better now,” Butman said. “The gin was built to handle 1,500 bales per day. This is not an average West Texas cotton gin.”
Lubbock Cotton Growers cotton gin has been in operation for 75 years and moved into the new facility in 2009.
The 2013 ginning season started with about 340 bales in late September.
Butman said cotton production has changed significantly over the past few years as boll weevil eradication and better varieties have pushed yield potential beyond what was considered acceptable a decade ago.
“We’ve seen five-bale production on subsurface drip irrigation,” he said, “and seed companies say that yields of four bales to six bales per acre will not be uncommon by 2030.”
And quality has improved as well.
Most of the cotton coming into the USDA classing office at Lubbock looks good, said area manager Kenny Day.
Good grades early
Early grades showed average mic at 3.76, staple at 30.9, strength at 36, uniformity at 80.5 percent and from 70 percent to 80 percent at an 11 color grade with some at 21.
“Those are all good,” Verett said.
“We’re off to a pretty good start,” Day added.
He anticipates another relatively slow year. “Early estimates are we will class 1.8 million samples,” he said. “We hope to get 2 million.”
He expects peak receipts will be about 40,000 samples a week, off some because of the continuing drought. “We should get 10,000 to 20,000 in next week.” Crosby and Floyd counties will be the largest producers.
He said the office classed almost 4 million samples from the 2010 crop.
Texas has four classing offices, from Lubbock down into South Texas. “We often class as much in Lubbock as the other three offices combined,” Day said.
Ron Harkey, president, Farmers Co-op Compress cotton warehouse in Lubbock, said the warehouse, “the largest cotton compress in the world,” will handle a little less cotton than they did last year. “We had 950,000 bales in 2011,” he said. That was the worst drought year on record for the area. “We handled 1.5 million bales last year, and this year we will be somewhere in between.”
Farmers Co-op compress was created in 1948. “FCC made money every year,” Harkey said. “We now have five locations and can store 11.3 million bales under a roof.”
Don Harper, vice president, said the warehouse has received about 100,000 bales during the first month of operation this year.
At PYCO Industries cottonseed oil mill, Robert Lacy, senior vice president for marketing, said the company processed 1.1 million tons in the largest year. The 2011 season was the lowest.
“The last two years we’ve only run one plant because of the drought but we expect a decent crop this year.”
PYCO has two plants, both in Lubbock.
Ronnie Gilbert, vice president, oil trading/packaged oil, discussed some of the many products PYCO produces and markets, including livestock feed, cooking oils, oil for industrial uses and cosmetics.
Natalie Moore, Plains Cotton Cooperative Association’s (PCCA) American Cotton Growers denim mill in Littlefield, told the group the mill uses 85,000 bales of Texas cotton per year. “We are the largest processor of cotton in Texas.”
Moore said the mill runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Customers include Abercrombie and Fitch as well as Wrangler, Eddie Bauer, GAP and most other major denim brands.
“We are part of the textile and garment segment of PCCA,” she said.
The mill takes cotton to cloth, which then goes to Denim Matrix in Guatemala, where it’s made into blue jeans.
“Denim Matrix produces 100,000 pairs of jeans per week,” Moore said.
Near Ropesville, Texas, farmer Mike Henson demonstrated a round-bale harvester and explained the on-board module harvester offers the possibility of saving time, labor and reducing the amount of equipment needed at harvest.
Henson said his irrigated cotton looks good but dryland will produce little. “I’ll harvest some dryland acreage,” he said, “but it’s not very good cotton.”
Verett explained the transition of West Texas cotton from a product considered of low quality to cotton “that competes with cotton grown anywhere in the country.” He said the denim mill is shifting back to ring spinning. “We have the quality to do that now.”
That transition began in the early years of the 21stCentury, Verett said. “Better quality meant big gains for West Texas cotton.”