From a tiny vulnerable seedling, cotton blooms and becomes a very useful fiber over the course of a four to five month growing season. Then the crop is stripped from the plant, ginned for processing, and it is ready to be sold to textile mills and fabric producers around the world. But one very important step is missing from that picture; storage.
"We store cotton and we give service. That's all we're here for and that's all we try to think about everyday," Ron Harkey with Farmers CO-OP Compress said.
That's where cotton warehouses like Farmers Cooperative Compress come in. Organized by local producers in 1948, Farmers CO-OP services over 3.6 million acres of cotton. CEO Ron Harkey said that they are ready to ship specific bales out to merchants across the U.S. at any given time.
"When the cotton is ginned it needs a place to go to be grouped together for the merchants or whoever ultimately buys the cotton," Harkey said. "So it is stored here and the merchants tell us the particular bales that they want and we group those together."
That 3.6 million acres translates to over 2 million bales that need to be stored on a normal year. Farmers Cooperative Compress has five area locations to accommodate their farmers.
"We have a location here in Lubbock and in Plainview, Levelland, Stanton, and then we have a little small warehouse in Floydada," Harkey said. "We have about 11.3 million square feet under roof and sprinkler so we can store about 2.4 million bales."
Harkey said that the last three years have proven difficult to reach their average capacity. But he is hopeful things will turn around for their producers soon.
"2011 really hit all of our producers really hard and we were down way below our average," Harkey said. "Our average up to that point was about 2.4 million bales and we only handled about 950,000 that year so it was really down. Last year 1.5 million, still below our ten year average, and then this year looks like 1.3 so it's three years in a row now that the drought has really affected our producers."
Although the cotton growing and ginning season make up a relatively short portion of each year, cotton warehousing and marketing is a 24/7/365 day a year operation.