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Sunday, June 1, 2003
Last modified at 8:33 p.m. on Wednesday, May 28, 2003
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  Cotton has long been the undisputed king of the South Plains economy.
t A-J File Photo

Cotton, agriculture help power community


Just as sure as the dawn brings light, agriculture remains a strong pillar of the South Plains economy.

Cotton reigns as the primary crop in the area.

Roger Haldenby, vice president of operations for Plains Cotton Growers, said more than 3 million acres of cotton are grown in Lubbock County and 25 counties surrounding it every year.

Last year, about 3.27 million bales of cotton were produced on the South Plains, accounting for more than half of the 5 million bales produced statewide.

''It (cotton) is not only important to farmers, but it's also important to all the agribusinesses and communities across this vast area,'' Haldenby said.

Lubbock boasts many agriculture-related industries, including gin manufacturers, cottonseed oil companies and textile manufacturers. In addition, many communities across the South Plains have at least one cotton gin.

''Each of the small agricultural communities in West Texas derives benefits from cotton production through taxes on the land and money spent by farmers on the many inputs that are needed to produce a crop,'' Haldenby said. ''Cotton farming is also a large employer from working on the land to gins that process the crop and all the associated service industries.''

Growing cotton � or any crop, for that matter � isn't as simple as buying the seed, planting it and watching it grow. Producers now have many regulations to follow and decisions to make as technology expands to accommodate the demand for higher yields and better quality.

''Even though cotton farmers still take dirt, water and seed to produce a crop, in the 21st century, it's become a high-technology industry,'' Haldenby said. ''Cotton varieties have been developed incorporating both natural traits and transgenic properties. Global positioning technology is used on many aspects from simply mapping of fields to monitoring yields and fertility.''

This research and development has fostered many changes in the cotton industry.

''A couple of decades ago, West Texas cotton had a poor reputation, but for today's market, our producers are growing premium qualities, (and) our ginners are processing lint that gives our textile mills the qualities they are looking for,'' Haldenby said.

Other crops grown in this area include peanuts, grain sorghum and corn. Although not as popular as cotton, each of these crops has promise for the future of South Plains agriculture.

The peanut industry is shifting to West Texas, as several companies have announced major expansions to build shelling plants and buying points. The Texas Peanut Producers Board recently revealed plans to move its office to Lubbock.

Calvin Trostle, agronomist with Texas Cooperative Extension, said peanut acreage should remain in the 160,000- to 200,000-acre range for the next several years.

''The acreage out here has become stable, and people are increasingly willing to put handling and processing facilities out here,'' he said.

Trostle said he has seen a small increase in the number of grain sorghum acres, and many farmers use it as a rotational crop.

However, with the possibility of an ethanol plant coming to the South Plains, sorghum could take a higher place in the hierarchy of crop production in this area. The ethanol plant is still the focus of a feasibility study.

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