Cotton modules, capped with green, orange, blue, gray and brilliant yellow tarps, dot the Texas Plains landscape this fall like oversized Legos waiting for a giant child to begin a construction project.
Official estimates project the Texas Plains will produce 5.3 million bales, which will beat last year's historic high.
The official 2004 production from the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service Districts 1-North and 1-South was 4,823,500 bales, says Shawn Wade, director of communications for Plains Cotton Growers, Inc. The 41-county PCG service area produced 4,877,600 bales in 2004.
Ginners are running non-stop trying to keep up with the second huge crop in a row. Most expect to be running well into March but hope to avoid the prolonged season they faced last year when fall rain, snow and bitter cold delayed harvest and ginning.
“This time last year I would never have believed we'd have another huge crop this year,” says Daniel Taylor, who, with wife Linda, owns Buster's Gin in Ropesville.
“We're certainly not out looking for more customers this year,” he says.
Taylor ginned more than 100,000 bales last year and expects to hit that mark again. “It's keeping our employees busy,” he says.
“We're running smoother than we did last year,” says Linda, “but it still will be a long ginning season.”
She anticipates ginning cotton into March. “We're ginning about 700 bales a day,” she says, “and we have about 51 days of cotton on the gin yard.”
Daniel says the gin had run close to 20,000 bales by mid-November.
“Almost every one of our customers say they are making more bales per acre than they did last year,” Linda says.
Don Langston, who farms with his son-in-law, Alan West, just a few miles from Buster's Gin, says he's pulling significantly more modules from his fields than he did last year.
“I have one 200-acre field that made 455 bales last year, just under 2.5 bales per acre. It looks like I'll make 600 bales from that field this year, about a half-bale increase.”
He says the 200 acres netted 103 modules.
Langston says some dryland fields are pushing three bales per acre. “I don't think I have any dryland field that will go under two bales per acre,” he says. “The dryland may actually be better than irrigated cotton this year. For one thing, we planted our dryland acreage later.”
He says the later cotton caught rainfall just right.
Langston and West farm 3500 acres of cotton between them. “All of it has been good this year,” says West. “Even some cotton that got late hail damage made two bales an acre.”
They say variety may have played a role, too. “I don't think anything will beat FiberMax 958,” Langston says.
It's a conventional variety he hopes will stick around as seed companies turn more and more to transgenics.
“We're only using Roundup Ready where we absolutely have to have for heavy weed pressure,” says West. “We have some fields we just took in that are weedy and we'll clean those up with Roundup Ready varieties.”
Jerry Harris, King Mesa Gin in Lamesa, says “the crop just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”
The crop will grade significantly better than last year's too.
“The grades have been fantastic,” says Olton CO-OP Gin manager Chris Breedlove. “Our producers are getting paid about a nickel better or $25 per bale more than they did in 2004. And because of the grades, they're getting about two cents over loan, which is about 53.60 cents per pound.”
Olton CO-OP Gin is about half through its season.
“I'm guessing we'll gin anywhere from 88,000 to 90,000 bales this year,” Breedlove says. “We've already ginned more than 32,000 bales (by mid-November) but we have about 800 modules on the yard and 1,200 modules in the field.
“The gin is running well. We're ginning about 150 modules or 1,350 to 1,550 bales per day. And the waiting period, from when a producer turns in his cotton to when it is ginned, is less than two weeks.”