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First bale auction raises $10,000 for Texas Rio Grande Valley students

• By Jennifer Dorsett •

The Harlingen Cotton Committee recently auctioned off the first bale of cotton harvested in 2020, with proceeds going toward scholarships for area students pursuing college degrees in agriculture — photo courtesy Texas Farm Bureau

The Harlingen (Texas) Cotton Committee recently auctioned the first cotton bale of 2020 to benefit area students pursuing a degree in higher education.

In previous years, the Harlingen Cotton Committee and the Algodón Club collaborated to celebrate cotton and its importance to the Rio Grande Valley’s economy. The committee hosts the “First Bale” live auction to raise scholarship funds for college students, and the Algodón Club hosts a silent auction to raise money for scholarships for local high school students. Good food, good company and good times are central to the annual happening.

But the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way many events are hosted and celebrated this year.

“We normally host a First Bale auction and fundraising event, but with the way things were going this year, we made the determination around June to not host an in-person event this year,” said Sam Simmons, Harlingen Cotton Committee chair. “It was definitely a challenging year. We had to figure out how we could still hold the auction and deliver those important scholarship funds, so we came up with a blind auction using mail-in bids.”

Agrichemical company BASF purchased the first bale for $7,000. Another $3,000 in fundraising add-ons were contributed by donors and the committee for a total of $10,000. The proceeds will be made available in the form of scholarships to students pursuing a welding certificate from Southern Careers Institute in Harlingen.

Simmons noted this is the first year the committee has donated to the institute. In the past, scholarships were awarded to students of Texas State Technical College. But the Harlingen campus discontinued its agricultural technology program last year, citing low wage returns for graduates when cutting the program.

“Agriculture is still the largest industry in the Valley,” Simmons said. “The industry is there, and we felt it was important to find a way to support those who are interested in pursuing jobs in agriculture.”

For the past 66 years, the nation’s first bale of cotton has been harvested in the Rio Grande Valley.

The certified first bale was delivered to Ross Gin Co. in Mercedes by Hidalgo County Farm Bureau member Mike England on June 18.

The cotton bale will be delivered to Vidalia Mills in Vidalia, Louisiana.

Jennifer Dorsett is field editor for the Texas Farm Bureau’s monthly newspaper, Texas Agriculture. This article originally appeared in Texas Agriculture.