U.S. Sen. John Cornyn Aug. 6, 2013, 10:34am

There has been much excitement across the pond as of late over the birth of England’s newest heir to the throne. But did you know that Texas’ very own royal bundle of joy has just arrived? Weighing in just shy of 2,000 pounds, the nation’s First Bale of King Cotton for 2013 was delivered by the Rodriguez Brothers Farm in Santa Rosa, Texas, to the La Feria Co-op Gin at 2:15 p.m. on Friday, June 21, 2013. In the time since then, it has been cleaned up in the ginning process and is now ready for its proper debut at Harlingen’s 2013 First Bale Auction and Scholarship Fundraiser.

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.

Every summer, a celebration is held in honor of the achievement, called the First Bale Auction and Scholarship Fundraiser. The event is hosted by the Harlingen Cotton Committee in conjunction with the Algodon Club, a non-profit, civic organization formed in 1953 that works to showcase the importance of cotton to the Rio Grande Valley economy. This year’s event, held on the evening of Thursday, August 8, will mark the 60th Anniversary. Hundreds of elected officials, agribusiness leaders, and residents from across the region are expected to attend.

The First Bale will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. In recent years, the 500-600-pound bundle of ginned cotton has fetched between $8,000 and $9,000, but organizers are hopeful that the 60th Anniversary Bale will set a record. The first $3000 of the auction price historically goes to the farmer that brought in the bale, and any excess monies are used by the Harlingen Cotton Committee to fund collegiate agricultural scholarships. In the past several years, they have awarded $5,000 to agriculture students of Texas State Technical College, where their investment is matched by the TSTC Lozano Long Opportunity Scholarship. The proceeds of other items auctioned off after the First Bale go toward additional scholarships, awarded through the Algodon Club to high school seniors who commit to pursue a degree in an agricultural-related field at an accredited college or university. These scholarships are awarded at the annual Algodon Ball, which is held each June to culminate “Cotton Week,” and is presided over by the Queen of Cotton and her Royal Court.

With agriculture comprising roughly one quarter of the Rio Grande Valley’s economy, celebrations such as the auction of the First Bale and other cotton-themed events are a source of pride and a time-honored tradition for members of the local community. I congratulate the Harlingen Cotton Committee, the Algodon Club, the farming families and all of the individuals who have worked hard to carry on the tradition of the First Bale for the past 60 years and wish them the best as they celebrate this year’s successor to the throne of King Cotton.

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