The First Bale of the Cotton in the Nation: Hitting the Harlingen Auction Block

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In honor of the event’s 60th year, Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, Todd Staples, was in attendance and spoke to the crowd about cotton, our economy, drought impact, and the importance of youth and our industry for our future.

By Krystal Stenseng

The 60th First Bale of Cotton Auction and Scholarship Fundraiser was held on the evening of Thursday, August 8th at the Harlingen Community Center.  Hosted by the Algodon Club and the Harlingen Cotton Committee of the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce, this event has a rich history right here in the Rio Grande Valley.

“The tradition of certifying the nation’s First Bale of the year dates back to the 1800’s 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. 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,” stated U.S. Senator John Cornyn.

In honor of the event’s 60th year, Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, Todd Staples, was in attendance and spoke to the crowd about cotton, our economy, drought impact, and the importance of youth and our industry for our future.

This year’s first bale is credited to the Rodriguez family of Primera, whose hardworking crew of family and friends handpicked every boll that went into the nearly 2,000 pounds of cotton that eventually comprised the nearly 500 pound bale.  Turned in to the La Feria Co-op Gin on Friday, June 21st, this first bale was the Rodriguez’s sixth overall win and the third consecutive year to take the top honor.  For their efforts, the first $3,000 from the bale’s auction proceeds were awarded to the Rodriguez family.  Steve Krenek, former Harlingen Cotton Committee Chairman, auctioned off the bale as he does each year, with Fred Taylor of BACO Trading Inc. having the winning bid of $3,750.

The remaining funds from the auction proceeds from the bale, the live auction items, and the silent auction items go to fund college scholarships awarded through the Algodon Club and the Harlingen Cotton Committee to students pursuing degrees in the agricultural field.  Both live and silent auction items – from clothing to decorations to services to trips and stays – were all donated by area individuals and businesses in support of scholarships that will go to Valley students to be recognized at the Algodon Ball in June of 2014.  This year’s successful event tally was nearly $23,000.

“This Valley was started on farming; it’s very important.  When the farmers suffer, most everybody else is going to suffer. Everybody is directly or indirectly affected . . . It’s still a very key part to the survival of the Valley and the economy,” affirmed Brady Taubert, Chairman of the Harlingen Cotton Committee.

I know it can seem hard to celebrate cotton in the Valley when so many farmers are under great stress as the lack of rain at the right times can keep their efforts from producing an abundant crop.  When a farmer look out on his dusty fields that will not live up to their full potential this season, it is easy to wring his hands and worry about hard work that falls short.  However, our Valley farmers ultimately know we serve a Sovereign and Mighty God, Who “even the winds and waves obey,” and His hand is on them in both the good years and the bad years.  And in both, we come together as a rural community in support of young people who will be aided in achieving their college goals and will go on to careers in agriculture, and those jobs cover everything from the fields to the board rooms of this country.  And right here in Harlingen, part of that aid started out on a historic auction block.