LUBBOCK, Texas — Every day of harvest season, Thomas Kennedy climbs into a $1.2 million cotton-stripper, his “real-life transformer,” to spend the next twelve hours gathering the South Plains’ coveted cotton.
A fifth-generation cotton producer, Kennedy learned the trade from his father, who now works with him on the 8,000 acres of TKT Farms.
“To be involved in one of the staples of the Lubbock economy, the Lubbock industry, is special to me,” he said. “It feels more than you’re just punching the time clock. You’re a part of the real fabric of this area.”
West Texas is home to the largest cotton-producing region in the world. Cotton with the “Made in America” stamp is the most sought-after clothing material, with Lubbock’s product serving international markets like India and China. Every year, the cotton industry alone brings in an estimated minimum of $10 billion into the Texas economy, up to a quarter of the Lubbock region’s entire economic output. It is harvested at night because the lower humidity makes for better-quality cotton. Moisture in the air can damage the cotton and make it more difficult to harvest.
“It’s really cool for me to feel like I’m a part of that,” Kennedy said. “I hope everybody in Lubbock can share that sentiment and enjoy that as much as we are proud of Buddy Holly and Patrick Mahomes. It’s cool when you really think about how much this South Plains area can impact the entire world.”
It’s clear as soon as one steps on a massive cotton-stripper, the machines carrying the eerie lights that are staples of a night drive down a Lubbock highway this time of year, that today’s farmers are not the rough field workers of the past. Kennedy described the creativity, ingenuity, and business acumen it takes to compete in the largest cotton market in the country.
“You have to be creative enough to say, ‘this is the problem we’re having this year, and this is how we can solve it this year,'” he said. “A lot of farmers say ‘this is my 35th crop, and this is my 35th first crop.’ No year is the same… you have to have the tenacity to stick with it, which is a trait that anybody can have, but you have to decide you want to have it. It can get tough sometimes.”
This year’s crop was planted between May and July, and harvesting will last through at least Thanksgiving. Tough times like last year’s subpar cotton growth are offset by booming years like this harvest. With cotton prices nearing all-time highs, Kennedy hopes this harvest will offset the heightened input costs caused in part by pandemic-era supply chain issues.
Tough times like last year’s subpar cotton growth are offset by booming years like this harvest. With cotton prices nearing all-time highs, Kennedy hopes this harvest will offset the heightened input costs caused in part by pandemic-era supply chain issues.
“It’s life and death for you if it’s your business,” he said.