Making the grade

Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers

Twenty years ago, the cotton that sprouted in the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico could be used to make a limited number of items because the quality was poor. But farmers these days are celebrating a higher quality product, according to many in the industry.

Regionally grown cotton, once used primarily for denim, is now “suitable for the finer fabrics of life, like dress shirts, sheets, and better quality clothes,” due to investments in genetically modified cotton seeds, said Plains Cotton Growers, Inc. Vice President of Operations Roger Haldenby, who represents cotton farmers in 41 counties across New Mexico and Texas.

The super seeds, Haldenby said, were developed by several companies. In the last few years, forerunners such as Fiber Max, Delta, and Pineland tailored seed varieties to growing conditions in different regions, according to The Journal of Agrobiotechnology Management and Economics.

“This is the first year that we’re actually getting into the world market,” said Les Curtis, an employee of Farwell Gin Company.

Farwell cotton farmer Mark Williams uses Fiber Max seeds. He said a combination of good weather and modified, pest resistent cotton seeds have increased the quality and yield of his crop, which will reach about 8,000 bales this year.
Strengthened through cross-breeding, the new seed varieties produce thicker, longer, and whiter cotton fibers, officials said. In the last five years, seed supply levels have blossomed significantly, along with farmer adoption of the seeds, Haldenby said. And in the last two, regional gins have been overflowing with fluffy, bright cotton.

Ambitious seed companies deserve a lot of the credit, said Texas Tech University Dean of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources Norman Hopper.

Haldenby estimates this year’s cotton harvest will yield 5.5 million bales, although about 4,000 acres of cotton have yet to be harvested among his farmers. Last year yielded 4.8 million bales, he said.

“We are very pleased. This is not only good for our farmers, but the economic impact on all of the surrounding communities, towns and cities is tremendous,” Haldenby said.

For every dollar a cotton farmer earns, another three is invested into his or her community, Haldenby said.

Those in the cotton industry, however, also bow to Mother Nature. The last two growing seasons were almost perfect for cotton, officials said.

Moisture from the previous winter lingered and a long fall season without a freeze followed, Haldenby and Curtis said.
“Whenever you have two record crops back to back, you just wonder if it could possibly get any better than this,” Haldenby said.