Established in 1950, La Feria Co-Op began as a private gin before a group of farmers joined together with funds to purchase and create a cooperative. La Feria Co-Op is currently owned by 68 stockholders and is 1 of only 9 gins in the area surrounding Bayview to McCook, Texas, in heart of the Texas Rio Grande Valley. The co-op services four counties — Cameron, Willacy, Hidalgo and Starr — a prominent cotton-growing region with more than 210,000 cotton acres.
“In 1978, there were 75 gins in the Rio Grande Valley, which is a very large cotton producing region,” says Ed Landry, general manager of La Feria Co-Op. “At that time, our little town of La Feria had three gins. Now, there’s only nine gins in the entire area.”
La Feria Co-op has 12 full-time employees and adds 24 seasonal employees during the busy harvest season, making the gin an important contributor to the community’s economy. In 2018, La Feria ginned more than 35,000 bales of cotton, a figure projected to increase substantially this harvest season — nearing 50,000 bales.
“We’re very conservative and have a good board of directors and a great customer base,” Landry says. “Our goal is to make as much as we can because we give it all back to our shareholders. As a co-op, we operate as a nonprofit. Everything we earn goes back to those who participate.”
Cotton harvest has been ongoing in the Rio Grande Valley since mid-July for early season dryland cotton acres. Harvest of irrigated cotton began in late August. An unfortunate and rare flood occurring in June caused the loss of approximately 7,000 to 8,000 cotton acres, affecting many farmers.
“Dryland cotton grades look to be down this year due to the weather conditions,” Landry says. “This year started off hot and dry and then turned too wet, which affected the quality of some of the dryland crop.”
Cotton sold by the co-op is tagged at the gin with a “Valley Cotton” tag and bar code so the cotton can be source-verified or traced back to the producer. Some of the cotton sold by La Feria is destined for denim mills located in Vietnam and other manufacturing facilities, such as one located in Edinburg, Texas. Landry markets the cotton through Plains Cotton Cooperative Association (PCCA) in Lubbock, Texas, and through the South Texas cotton pool. Cotton is also marketed through The Seam®, an electronic marketing system where it is open to direct bids from interested parties.
Landry says employees are excited and supportive of the Yieldmobile promotion and are embracing the tour with pride, not just for the place they work but also for what they do to support farmers and the economy of the community.
“We think the Yieldmobile is pretty neat, so why not [get involved],” Landry says. “It is fun for our employees and very noticeable. It’s like a rolling billboard.”
La Feria Co-Op, La Feria, Texas, is the first destination on the 2019 PhytoGen Yieldmobile promotional tour. Now in its second year, the Driven to Thrive Yieldmobile program celebrates harvest and helps raise awareness of local gins in many rural communities.