Modules of the white fluff usually line the gin’s storage field and a cotton trail on county roads lead to the gin. This year, the fields are bare.
The ear-piercing hum of cotton trucks waiting in line to unload never materialized. No travel trailers are parked in the facility east of the gin that house contract harvesters. Gin manager David Wyatt says he’s sure the impact of no harvest is being felt across the county.
In a bumper year, thousands of gallons of diesel are purchased to power the equipment, dozens of contract harvesters move in for the season. All the workers need housing, food, fuel and the amenities of life. They buy them here in county.
“This time of year, my employees, me included, make above our average salaries and the more you make, the more you spend, that’s human nature,” Wyatt said.
But this is a lean year all around.
In 32 years of operating a gin, Wyatt says drought conditions are the worst he’s seen.
Almost 27,000 acres are normally planted in cotton. Only 180 acres were harvested in the Austwell area. So little, in fact, the cotton was taken to a gin in Port Lavaca. Powering up to gin such a small amount of cotton is not cost effective.
Last week, the last surviving cotton field was cut down and plowed under. The field was white as snow.
“I’m 89 and I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said O.D. Bell. “You need to come take a picture of this.”
Farmers and gin workers are looking to the future and next year’s season but unless drought conditions end, prospects aren’t good, Wyatt said.
“We’re absolutely bone dry,” Wyatt said. “The next season is not far away and there’s no soil moisture to start with. We need significant rain, something tropical to drop six to 10 inches of rain.”
The scattered showers that dotted the county this week are simply not enough to make a difference, Wyatt said.
“We can survive this season but two bad seasons back to back? We’ll have to look at our cards again,” Wyatt said. “That would put everything in real critical condition.”