WINDMILL COUNTRY: Cotton harvest bound to improve from 2011


SAN ANGELO, Texas — Except for a welcome rain delay, cotton harvest is under way. Unfortunately, this year’s crop is a mixed bag at best, said Randall Conner of Winters.

Conner, executive director of Southern Rolling Plains Cotton Growers Association, said the scorching and droughty summer did its trick on dryland cotton for a second year and by the time recent rainfall arrived; the crop was too far gone.

“There is some pretty decent cotton in the 12-county area, but a lot of it is poor or very poor and will be disastered out,” he said. “Irrigated fields and even a few dryland fields will be harvested and will make some fair cotton.”

The dryland cotton — crops that depend solely on rainfall — will make a yield where some spotted rainfall came during the growing season. Their planting timing was just right for the maturity of that cotton, Conner said.

“Farmers are predicting a bale and a half per acre on irrigated cotton this fall,” he said. “Some of the dryland fields could yield a half bale, even three-quarter bale per acre.”

In 2011 when Texas experienced the worst one-year drought since 1895, 359,000 acres was planted in cotton, but only 18,000 acres were harvested. The majority was declared a disaster.

“So, we can be optimistic and say the 2012 cotton crop will be better than last year,” Conner said. “A total of 26,526 bales were produced across the entire Southern Rolling Plains last year, the lowest number in SRPCGA history.”

The best year for the region was 2007 when 301,848 bales were produced.

The Southern Rolling Plains region is composed of Tom Green, Runnels, Concho, Coke, Coleman, Brown, McCulloch, Mason, Menard, Irion, Schleicher and southern Taylor counties.

Meanwhile, gins are cranking up across West Texas. I noticed more than a dozen cotton modules rested in the gin-yard Friday at Wall Co-Op Gin, 10 miles southeast of San Angelo.

Modules — the rectangular packed cottonseed, fiber and stalks normally hold from 10 to 12 bales each — store fresh harvested cotton at the edge of fields or in gin yards until ginning takes place. A bale weights 480 to 500 pounds.

Also under way are the U.S. Department of Agriculture cotton classing offices which serve Texas.

Samples from all cotton produced in the Concho Valley and Big Country enter the Abilene Classing office, where the quality of the crop is determined.

“In a single pound of cotton, there may be 100 million or more individual fibers, and each fiber is an outgrowth of a single cell that develops in the surface layer of the cotton seed,” said John C. Fox, area director of the Abilene-based USDA Cotton Division. “During the early stages of its growth, the fiber elongates to its full length as a thin-walled tube.”

A sample of at least 4 ounces is taken from each side of the cotton baled by a licensed sampling agent, and the 8 ounce sample is delivered by the agent or designated hauler to the USDA classing facility.

USDA personnel measure the fiber and enter the classification results into a computerized database that reveals how cotton might affect the quality of the finished product and manufacturing efficiency.

The Abilene classing facility, 90 miles northeast of San Angelo, is one of four in Texas; Lubbock, Lamesa and Corpus Christi have the others. Collected samples from cotton gins in the southeast portion of West Texas, along with all of Central and East Texas plus Oklahoma and Kansas, are graded in Abilene.

A total of 166,440 samples have been classed in Abilene so far this season.

In Lubbock, 2,625 samples were classed last week bringing the season total for the office to 5,765. Average length was 33.1 micronaire.

In Lamesa, 2,283 samples were classed last week bringing the season total for that office to 4,679. About 40 percent of the bales classed for the week were color grade 11 or 21, and 49 percent were color grade 12 or 22. For the season, about 38 percent of the bales classed were color grade 11, and almost 50 percent were color grade 12 or 22. Average length was 33.42.

The Lamesa Cotton Growers, Inc. celebrated a newly renovated cotton classing facility last month. U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Midland) cut the ribbon at the grand opening, followed by an open house and tours.

The new classing office features state-of-the-art electronic cotton classification instruments, automation devices, rapid conditioning units, upgraded mainframe computer equipment, and energy conservation features not found anywhere else in cotton classification.