Revenue from cotton production accounted for 47% of the total for Nueces County in 2016 and this year it will likely be responsible for a larger share of the county’s total agricultural income. With around 80% of the over 130 thousand acres planted to cotton harvested at this time, many growers across the county have reported observing cotton yields in the three bales per acre range in certain fields and some at or near four bales. It is likely that average yield for the county will exceed two bales per acre.
In Nueces County, the value of agricultural income was estimated to total close to $150 million last year. The strong cotton yields being seen should help offset the slump in commodity prices currently being paid for cotton and grain. Budgets prepared by Extension Economists estimate growers will spend around $623 per acre to grow a cotton crop and projected a return of around $22 per acre over those costs.
The value of cotton only growers as it moves off the farm and up the production chain. While cotton lint is the most valuable of the products a cotton farmer sells, it only accounts for about 35 – 40% of the harvested crop. When cotton is picked it is stored in a round module and taken to the cotton gin. At the cotton gin the seed cotton is dried, cleaned, and the seed and fiber are mechanically separated. Each round module of seed cotton weights about 5,000 lbs., of that around 3,000 lbs. will be cottonseed. A ton of whole cottonseed costs about $240.
A ton of cottonseed can be crushed and separated into three products: oil, meal and hulls. A ton of cottonseed will produce about 320 lbs. of oil, which has the greatest value of the three cottonseed products. Cottonseed oil is a common component of many food and cosmetic items. About 1,400 lbs. meal and hulls will be produced from one ton of cottonseed. They are used as feed for livestock, poultry, fish feed, and fertilizer. Whole cottonseed can also be feed to cattle without processing as part of their diet and it is high in energy, protein, phosphorus, and fiber. Gossypol in cottonseed limits its use as a human food source. Even the oil must be refined to remove gossypol, but once refined is desirable to many cooks because of its relatively high smoke point as a frying medium. Consumers trying to avoid trans fats have helped increases demand for cottonseed oil; which retails for about $10 per gallon.
The remaining third or so of the round module is lint; the ginned cotton fiber. Once ginned it is baled and sent to textile mills to be turned into fabric and yarn. A ginned cotton bale weights around 480lbs. The farmer’s value is currently around $0.68 per pound. Each bale of ginned cotton can produce 215 pairs of jeans, 1,217 men’s t-shirts, 4,321 socks, or 313,600 $100 bills. So the retail value of products made from a bale of cotton can range from about $7,300 to $31 million, with the farm value being around $326 a bale.
Nueces County typically ranks around 26th in the nation in the amount of cotton it produces. This year cotton growers are expected to produce more than enough cotton to make 55.9 million pairs of jeans and 14 tons of cottonseed oil.