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Sunday, June 2, 2002
Last modified at 3:59 p.m. on Saturday, June 1, 2002
© 2002 - The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Cotton still king; agriculture still key to local economy


BY SEBASTIAN KITCHEN
AVALANCHE-JOURNAL

Although numerous crops make their way in and out of West Texas fields, cotton is the economic fabric of the South Plains.

Cotton fills about 95 percent of area fields, but corn and grain sorghum also are common, said Jackie Smith, economist with the Texas Cooperative Extension.

The area immediately surrounding Lubbock grows about 50 percent of the state's cotton crop.

Other crops, which often are grown as alternatives to cotton, include sunflowers, peanuts, wheat, guar, soybeans and vegetables ' such as onions and potatoes.

Smith said the acreage planted to each of those crops is drastically smaller than for cotton.

Smith said Lubbock is called the largest contiguous cotton patch in the world with roughly 3 million acres of cotton in the area.

Agriculture is the largest employer outside Lubbock and in communities surrounding Lubbock, Smith said. The Lubbock production area includes 25 counties.

Cotton has been the lifeblood of the West Texas economy since irrigated cotton became prominent in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Smith said. He said cotton production found its way onto the South Plains in the 1930s.

Cotton can withstand hot, dry summers better than almost any other crop, he said.

''Agriculture is one of the most volatile parts of the economy,'' Smith said. ''When we see changes in agriculture, we see important impacts of it.''

Besides the direct benefit to farmers, Smith said, many people benefit from cotton because it employs others who work in processing, storage and transportation of cotton, textiles and cotton seed.

When low prices or weather negatively affect a crop, it's reflected in the economy: Not as many people are at the mall and not as many cars are sold when the area's agricultural economy is depressed, he said.

''Cotton is not everything, but it runs the ag economy here right now and has for the last 15 years,'' Smith said.

The area witnesses a large economic difference between the production of 2 million bales and 3 million bales, Smith said. He said 3 million bales could result in an economic value of $2 billion.

''Agriculture has a major, major impact,'' Smith said. ''To not have it at all would be devastating to this area.''

Carl Anderson, agricultural economist with the Texas Cooperative Extension in College Station, said the 22 counties immediately surrounding Lubbock produce $4 billion to $5 billion in cash receipts for agricultural producers with crops and livestock.

With an economic multiplier, those producers generate $8 billion to $9 billion in the agribusiness sector alone, Anderson said.

Livestock, namely meat and dairy cattle, also is important in the region's agricultural mix.

Cooperative Extension District 1, which is north of Lubbock and includes the Panhandle, has an agricultural economy that consists of 70 percent livestock. In District 2, which includes the 22 counties surrounding and including Lubbock, 62 percent of agricultural income is derived from crops.

The agricultural climate is looking up for area producers with the president's recent signing of a federal farm bill. Subsidies were increased for crops produced locally, such as cotton and grain sorghum, that have seen lean times in the last half-decade.

The bill included a safety net in the form of countercyclical payments that farmers wanted.

skitchen@lubbockonline.com t 766-8753


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