Sunday, May 26, 2024

Mystique Surrounds Season’s First Bale Of Cotton

Early summer across the Cotton Belt often means weed and disease pressure, but it also signals that coveted first bale of the season.

According to U.S. Senator John Cornyn (Texas), “The tradition of certifying the nation’s First Bale of the year dates back to the 1800s when the grower of the First Bale was required to transport the cotton to the Houston Cotton Exchange for certification. After verifying its status as the first bale of cotton to be harvested that year in the United States, the Exchange would put the bale up for auction.

Wesley Vanderpool (center left) harvested this year’s first bale of cotton — a Stoneville ST4990 variety — near Alamo, Texas. Also pictured with Wesley are, from left to right, Meranda Easter; Wesley’s partner, Verne Vanderpool (center right); and Luke Etheredge.

“This process continued, uninterrupted, for many years until 1953, when the Harlingen Cotton Committee successfully petitioned the Houston Cotton Exchange for the rights to auction the First Bale. As a result of this hallmark agreement, for the past 60 years the Harlingen Cotton Committee of the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce has been solely responsible for certifying the nation’s First Bale of cotton each year. And for each of those 60 years, the First Bale has been grown in the fertile Rio Grande Valley.”

The proceeds generated by this event help fund scholarships for local youth who are pursuing agriculture-related degrees.

This year, Wesley Vanderpool in Alamo, Texas, harvested that first bale June 23, at 1,989 pounds of cotton with the Stoneville ST4990 variety. Vanderpool’s harvested bale was then ginned at the Willacy Co-Op Gin.

First Texas High Plains Bale

The first High Plains bale for 2022 was delivered to Five Points Gin in Gaines County Sept. 6, 2022, by Gaines County producers Corny and Justina Enns. Harvested northwest of Seminole, the Enns brought in 2,880 pounds of seed cotton produced from Deltapine 1646.

From left to right: Mike Foster, Five Points Gin manager; Gaines County producers Justina and Corny Enns, who harvested the first bale of cotton for 2022 in the Texas High Plains; and Kurt Brown, Seminole Chamber of Commerce.

“I wasn’t planning on competing for the first bale or anything,” said Corny Enns, Gaines County farmer since 1987.

As he was driving by one of his fields, Enns saw some bolls opening. “I decided to call down to Five Points and see if anyone had brought anything in yet. They said no, so I sprayed about 15 acres and ended up stripping 12.”

The first bale was auctioned off by the pound at the annual Gaines County Ag & Oil Appreciation Day hosted by the Seminole Chamber of Commerce Sept. 15.

The seven gins in Gaines County each put in $1,000 for the first bale, so the grower is guaranteed $7,000 in prize money in addition to the money brought in from the auction.

“It’s been such a strange year, we weren’t sure anyone would try to make the first bale,” said Mike Foster, manager of Five Points Gin. “I’m proud for the Enns family who have been my customers since 2010.”

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