When most people think of West Texas agriculture, they picture longhorn steers and wide open spaces of range land. Few realize that in West Texas, cotton reigns supreme. During the average year, Texas is responsible for the production of about 5 million cotton bales. In 2011, while Texans struggled to cope with a severe drought, cotton producers were able to provide the world with 3.5 million bales. The largest cotton crop was grown in 2005, when the state produced 8.4 million cotton bales. Each bales weighs 500 pounds.
Today, the majority of Texas cotton comes from the western side of the state.
The United States Economy Relies on Cotton
Growers spend approximately $5.3 billion on the supplies they need in order to plant, grow, harvest, and transport their cotton crop each year. Cotton adds $120 billion to the United States economy and that approximately $24 billion of that can be connected to Texas cotton growers.
Many credit cotton farmers with helping reduce the United State's trade deficit. Current cotton producers assist in the exportation of more than 10.5 million bales of cotton each year which brings approximately $2 billion into the country. This equals approximately 37% of the entire export market. Most of the cotton is sent to Asia and Mexico.
Preserving the Ecosystem
Few realize that low-grade cotton grown in West Texas plays a huge role in preserving the ecosystem for future generations. Researchers in the Texas Tech University Nonwovens and Advanced Materials Laboratory conducted a study that showed that one of the best materials to use for cleaning up oil spills is low-micronaire cotton. One pound of the low-micronaire cotton absorbs 30 pounds of oil while repelling water. West Texas growers produce approximately 10% of the United States low-micronaire cotton.
Cotton Production Encourages Scientific Development
Cotton production in West Texas isn’t stagnant. Everyone connected to the industry constantly looks for new ways they can grow better quality cotton on less land and at more affordable rates. The discoveries scientists and producers make while exploring ways to improve cotton production can also be utilized to increase the production efficiency of other types of crops, while improving harmful insect control.
Cotton Farmers Feed U.S. Livestock
When the average person thinks of West Texas cotton production, they picture fuzzy white ball of cotton growing in a large field that will be harvested and turned into things like jeans and bedding. Few realize that many cotton farmers aren't just keeping the rest of the United States in affordable clothing, they're also helping feed livestock throughout the country. Many of the cotton fields in Lubbock and the surrounding areas are dedicated to the growth of cotton seed, which when harvested can be set aside for the next season’s crop, or sent to grain co-ops across the United States where it will be added to livestock feed.
Approximately 2/3rds of the 6.5 billion tons of cottonseed grown in the United States is set aside to feed cattle. Other places Americans frequently find West Texas grown cottonseed include:
- Cooking Oils
- Salad dressings
- Composition roofing
- And more
PYCO, the Lubbock cotton seed cooperative, is responsible for processing and distributing most of cottonseed produced by West Texas cotton farmers.
West Texas Cotton Farmers Keep Gardens Growing
There's very little waste in cotton production. Even the hulls serve an important function. After the harvest, some hulls are gathered and sent to feed mills where they're processed and used to provide additional roughage for cattle. The remainder of the freshly harvested hulls are ground up and turned into mulch or mixed with potash to serve as ingredients in the fertilizers used by gardeners and farmers alike.
Additional uses for the cotton hulls include packing material and as an ingredient in some chemical mixtures.
The next time you encounter a cotton farmer, remember the important role they play in keeping West Texas great and let them know how much you appreciate their contribution.