tx almanac facebook link


A feed lot in Wheeler County. Photo by Robert Plocheck.

Ranching in a Changing Land

By Elmer Kelton

It has been said that ranchers and farmers are the original environmentalists. They are directly and forcefully affected every day by their natural environment. Typically, the first thing they do when they step outside early in the morning is to look for sign of a rain cloud. Rainfall or the lack of it, the weather cold or hot, the availability of water are concerns with which they must deal day by day, year by year.

To whatever extent technology has allowed, they have tried to influence their environment to their benefit. Some of the results have been favorable. Others have fallen victim to the unwritten law of unintended consequences, trading one set of problems for another.

A pristine environment prevailed for the first Texas ranches that began in the late 1600s and early 1700s with Spanish land grants along the Rio Grande. . . .


The State of Texas Agriculture

The number and nature of farms have changed over time. The number of farms in Texas has decreased from 420,000 in 1940 to 244,700 in 2012, with an average size of 523 acres. The number of small farms is increasing — but part-time farmers operate them. . . .


• Texas Agriculture Cash Receipts for Commodities

• Texas Crop Production: Acres, Yield, Value


The Legendary Cattle Drives

No single endeavor has marked the image of Texas in the national mind more than the cattle drive. For more than a century, writers have romanticized the work and the life of the cowboy.

Cattle have been raised in Texas from the time the Spanish attempted to establish missions and domesticate the Indians, beginning in the mid-18th century.

It was primarily a small-scale industry during the Republic and early statehood. Most cattle were slaughtered for their hides and tallow, since the meat could not be preserved for long with the methods then used.

Many of the early cattle were longhorns, descendants of Spanish ranch and mission herds, with horn spreads of four to eight feet. . . .


From the Almanac

Principal Crops

The value of crop production in Texas is less than 40 percent of the total value of the state’s agricultural output. Cash receipts from farm sales of crops are reduced somewhat because some grain and roughage is fed to livestock on farms where produced. Drought has reduced receipts in recent years.

Receipts from all Texas crops totaled $6.864 billion in 2011; $8.612 billion in 2010; and $6.471 billion in 2009.

Cotton, corn, grain sorghum, and wheat account for a large part of the total crop receipts. In 2011, cotton contributed about 30.1 percent of the crop total; corn, 14.1 percent; grain sorghum, 5 percent; and wheat, 6.2 percent.  Hay, cottonseed, vegetables, peanuts, rice, and soybeans are other important cash crops.

Bales of cotton in Medina County

Bales of cotton in Medina County. Photo by Robert Plocheck.


Cotton has been a major crop in Texas for more than a century. Since 1880, Texas has led all states in cotton production in most years, and today the annual Texas cotton harvest amounts to approximately a fourth of total production in the United States. The annual Texas cotton crop has averaged 5.37 million bales since 1996.

Value of upland cotton produced in Texas in 2012 was $1.668 billion. Cottonseed value in 2012 was $460 million, making the value of the Texas crop around $2.128 billion.

Upland cotton was harvested from 3.9 million acres in 2012, and American-Pima from 7,500 acres, for a total of 3.908 million acres. Yield for upland cotton in 2012 was 615 pounds per harvested acre, with American-Pima yielding 832 pounds per acre.

Cotton acreage harvested in 2011 totaled 2.87 million, with a yield of 589 pounds per acre for upland cotton and 1,038 pounds per acre for American-Pima.

Total cotton production amounted to 5.013 million bales in 2012 and 3.54 million in 2011.

Cotton is the raw material for processing operations at gins, oil mills, compresses, and a small number of textile mills in Texas. Cotton in Texas is machine harvested. Field storage of harvested seed cotton has become common practice as gins decline in number.

Most of the Texas cotton crop is exported. China, Turkey, Mexico, and various Pacific Rim countries are major buyers. With the continuing development of fiber-spinning technology and the improved quality of Texas cotton, the export demand for Texas cotton has grown.

Spinning techniques can efficiently produce high-quality yarn from relatively strong short or longer staple upland cotton with fine mature fiber.


Interest in corn production throughout the state has increased since the 1970s as yields improved with new varieties. Once the principal grain crop, corn acreage declined as plantings of grain sorghum increased. Only 500,000 acres were harvested annually until the mid-1970s, when development of new hybrids occurred.

Harvested acreage was 1.55 million in 2012; 1.47 million in 2011; and 2.08 million in 2010. Yields for the corresponding years (2012–2010) were 130, 93, and 145 bushels per acre, respectively.

Most of the acreage and yield increase has occurred in Central and South Texas. In 2012, corn ranked second in value among the state’s crops. It was valued at $1.5 billion in 2012; $903.6 million in 2011; and $1.4 billion in 2010. The grain is largely used for livestock feed, but other important uses are in food products.

Grain Sorghum

Grain sorghum in 2012 ranked first in dollar value. Much of the grain is exported, as well as being used in livestock and poultry feed throughout Texas. Ethanol production is a more recent demand source for Texas sorghum.

Total production of grain sorghum in 2012 was 112 million bushels, with 59 bushels per acre yield. With an average price of $11.2 per cwt. (hundredweight), the total value reached $703 million. In 2011, 1.15 million acres of grain sorghum were harvested, yielding an average of 49 pounds per acre for a total production of 56.35 million bushels. It was valued at $10.40 per cwt., for a total value of $328.2 million.

In 2010, 1.7 million acres were harvested with an average of 70 bushels per acre, or 119 million bushels. The season's average price was $7.26 per cwt. for a total value of $483.8 million.

Although grown to some extent in all counties where crops are important, the largest concentrations are in the High Plains, Coastal Bend, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley areas. Research continues to develop high-yielding hybrids resistant to diseases and insect damage.


Wheat for grain is one of the state's most valuable cash crops. In 2010, wheat was exceeded in value by cotton, corn, and hay. Wheat pastures also provide considerable winter forage for cattle that is reflected in the value of livestock produced.

Texas wheat production totaled 96 million bushels in 2012 as yield averaged 32 bushels per acre. Planted acreage totaled 5.7 acres and 3 million acres were harvested. With an average price of $6.80 per bushel, the 2012 wheat value totaled $652,800,000. In 2011, Texas wheat growers planted 5.3 million acres and harvested 1.9 million acres. The yield was 26 bushels per acre for 2011 with total production of 49.4 million bushels at $7.34 per bushel valued at $362.6 million.

Texas wheat growers planted 5.7 million acres in 2010 and harvested grain from 3.75 million acres. The yield was 30 bushels per acre for a total production of 127.5 million bushels, valued at $669.4 million or $5.25 per bushel.

Wheat was first grown commercially in Texas near Sherman about 1833. The acreage expanded greatly in North-Central Texas after 1850 because of rapid settlement of the state and introduction of the well-adapted Mediterranean strain of wheat. A major family flour industry was developed in the Fort Worth-Dallas-Sherman area between 1875 and 1900.

Now, around half of the state acreage is planted on the High Plains and about a third of this is irrigated. Most of the Texas wheat acreage is of the hard red winter class. Because of the development of varieties with improved disease resistance and the use of wheat for winter pasture, there has been a sizable expansion of acreage in Central and South Texas.

Most all wheat harvested for grain is used in some phase of the milling industry. The better-quality hard red winter wheat is used in the production of commercial bakery flour. Lower grades and varieties of soft red winter wheat are used in family flours. By-products of milled wheat are used for feed.

Nursery Crops

The trend to increase production of nursery crops continues to rise as transportation costs on long-distance hauling increases. This has resulted in a marked increase in the production of container-grown plants within the state. This increase is noted especially in the production of bedding plants, foliage plants, sod, and the woody landscape plants.

Plant rental services have become a multi-million dollar business. This relatively new service provides the plants and maintains them in office buildings, shopping malls, public buildings, and even in some homes for a fee. The response has been good as evidenced by the growth of companies providing these services.

The interest in plants for interior landscapes is popular among all age groups, as both retail nurseries and florist shops report that people of all ages are buying their plants—from the elderly in retirement homes to high school and college students in dormitory rooms and apartments.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension specialists estimated cash receipts from nursery crops in Texas to be around $1.2 billion in 2011. Texans are creating colorful and green surroundings by improving their landscape plantings.




Texas Almanac

Texas Almanac