Cotton: The Only “Snow” Alabama Gets

Growing up in Alabama, I have not seen a tremendous amount of snow in my lifetime except for the “snow” that blooms each fall in our fields.

Image

Cotton has also been called “White Gold” because of its value. 100 years ago cotton is what kept the Southern economy thriving. After Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, cotton took its place as the South’s top cash crop. By 1860, the southern states were providing two-thirds of the world’s supply of cotton, and up to 80% of the fiber that was crucial to the British textile market. American cotton production soared from 156,000 bales in 1800 to more than 4,000,000 bales in 1860 (a bale is a compressed bundle of cotton weighing between 400 and 500 pounds). Today from the years 2010 through 2012, average acres harvested was 9.8 million acres, producing an average 17.0 million bales.

Image

Cotton is not as popular of a crop as it once was. We now use so many other materials for making clothing, so cotton is not as heavily used as it once was. However that does not mean cotton is still not important.

As of last week 88% of Alabama’s cotton crop had been harvested, but yesterday a local farmer was still picking cotton so I was able to grab some pictures.

These large machines called cotton pickers go through the fields and pull the cotton from the stalk. This particular cotton picker can pick 4 rows at a time.

Image

The cotton picked is pulled through a vacuum process into the basket on the back of the picker.

Image

When the basket is full the cotton is dumped into a module builder.

Image

Image

The module builder packs the cotton into a large rectangular block of cotton.

DSC_0102

Cotton is then taken to the gin and after the seed is removed the fiber can be for a variety of products. One 480 bale of cotton can be used to make:

215 Jeans
249 Bed Sheets
409 Men’s Sport Shirts
690 Terry Bath Towels
765 Men’s Dress Shirts
1,217 Men’s T-Shirts
1,256 Pillowcases
2,104 Boxer Shorts
2,419 Men’s Briefs
3,085 Diapers
4,321 Mid-Calf Socks
6,436 Women’s Knit Briefs
21,960 Women’s Handkerchiefs
313,600 $100 Bills

You may have never realized that bills were made out of cotton, but think about it. If you leave a piece of paper in your pockets and wash it, what happens to it? Its a mess, but a dollar bill is not harmed after a trip through the washing machine.

Cotton is still king in my book. It is beautiful when it is blooming and the bolls are opening up. It is a very finicky crop and somewhat difficult to grow, but that makes it all the more satisfying when you are able to harvest it.

DSC_1248

Adventures of the Traveling Minions

Thanks to McDonald’s Happy Meals I have had some travel buddies the last few weeks, a trio of minions. 
 
I hated to part with them so they journeyed with me from South Dakota back to Alabama. 
 
 
They rode with my boss and I to the airport. 
 
 
Went through security and waited on the airplane
 
They were very excited for their first plane ride. 
 
Lucky them they got a window seat.
 
Enjoyed a seat back magazine. 
 
The obeyed all posted and lighted signs (staying buckled  no smoking). 
 
Endured a layover in Minneapolis. 
 
Safely arrived in St. Louis and took the shuttle to the hotel.
 
Worked on a marketing presentation.
 
Slept Good. 
 
Very good. 
 
Ordered room service. 
 
Made sure to stay fresh. 
 
Made it back to Alabama riding in my backpack. 
 
They are adjusting well to life in Alabama. Sitting on the front porch 
 
 
and drinking sweet tea. 
 
I think they’ll like life at the Peek house. 

”I am sorry”, said the tree, “but I have nothing left to give you": Not the Same with the Toomer’s Oaks

Recently at one of our college student Sunday night devotionals one of the seniors, John Mark Henderson, related the book “The Giving Tree” to selflessness and did a fine job by providing such a profound example of seflessness. 


This week as I reflected back on his lesson it reminded me in ways of the Toomer’s Oaks and their end. I was expecting the last week to be a sad one, after all our beloved Toomer’s Oak Trees were going to be cut down. They were poisoned during our 2010 football season by a bitter fan from a rival school, who took things way too far. Sadly, these trees are not something easily replaced. They were a beautiful landmark in downtown Auburn and the space that is now in their spot looks strange. 


In the case of the tree featured in “The Giving Tree”, she gave all she had for the boy until she reached a point where she had to tell him she had nothing left to give, but she did. Even when it seemed like she had gave all she had, there was more. Same is the case with the Toomer’s Oaks. 


The corner right now looks bare, but yet those oaks have gave Auburn fans SO much and there is still so much for them to give. Until I came to college here I had never rolled the oaks. Since my freshman year I have made so many wonderful memories at the corner of Magnolia Avenue and College Street. Many rolls of toliet paper thrown, runs underneath the canopy of the trees, several talks with friends and late night strolls. 


During my freshman year the night we wont the SEC Championship on December 4, 2010 was a very memorable night

The National Championship rolling was another night I will never forget! 

 
Traffic jam on College Street heading to the game. Megan McMurray and I parked in the first spot we came to in the Comer Hall parking lot and sprinted all the way to the corner. 

The rest of the Auburn Family joined us

National Champs! What an exciting night.  

Brady and I after his first freshman game at the corner. 


We did not get to roll the trees as much this year as I would have liked to, but Saturday after the A-Day game, which 84,000+ people attended we rolled until I’m sure there was not a roll of toliet paper left in Auburn’s stores. 


These shots taken from above the crowd just help to solidify what this tradition means to the Auburn Family. People came from all over just to be a part of the final rolling of the oaks. 

Come fall when we (hopefully) win more football games. People will still gather at Toomer’s Corner as they have for year. This is where the trees are still giving back, the tradition started back in the 60’s and I’m sure willl continue. Toomer’s Corner is more than the trees, it is a place where Auburn fans can gather, usually we gather to celebrate victories of sports, politics (you name it), and some choose to gather there to protest. 

photo

This spot on Auburn’s campus has provided so  much for Auburn fans in the past and I cannot wait to see what it offers in the future. Shel Silverstein’s tree in “The Giving Tree” and the Auburn Oaks must be closely related they have provided so many memories over the years and still have so much still to give. 

Can We Do This Every Friday?

Last Friday the Auburn University Young Farmers organization went on our fall farm tour. We try to do one every semester to a farm somewhere in the state of Alabama to learn about a different area of production agriculture. Last spring we visited Purcell Farms which does a little bit of everything: cows, golf course, hunts, etc. 



So last Friday morning for our fall farm tour we loaded up three pickup trucks and journeyed about 2 1/2 hours from Auburn to Monroe county. Our first stop was the Frisco City Farmers Cooperative in Frisco City Alabama. Here we met up with Scott Saucer. 



Scott is a grower in the area and I had previously met him through working at the Alabama Young Farmers Leadership Conference, he was our guide for the day. While at the co-op we learned about fertilizer and took a look at their stockyard. 
They sell cattle here every Wednesday. There were not any cattle in the barn on Friday, but there was a random horse. This area years ago raised a lot of hogs, but in recent years like the rest of Alabama people moved away from raising hogs so this stockyard now handles cattle. 

From there we drove to a PhytoGen test plot. PhytoGen is a cotton seed  company.


 Some growers do test plots of different varieties , they grow small plots and when they harvest they keep a close track of how they do and report it back to the copany.  The plot we looked at had three different varieties being grown. Different varieties are used because they have certain characteristics the grower might want (ex. seedling vigor, storm tolerance, fiber quality and yield potential) 

             If you see signs like this while going down the road, it is probably a test plot. 

We also visited a cattle operation on our journey. This producer was a full time cattle farmer. It is calving season so there were several cute calves running around.

One management practice that many cattle farmers use is breeding all their cows at the same time. Cows like humans can be very troublesome when giving birth. If the farmer didn’t control when they were born he would be busy all year watching soon to be mama cows. So it is easier for them all to give birth around the same time. 


The Monroe County Farmers Federation fed us a wonderful lunch of BBQ and fixed us up with literature about peanuts. 

After our bellies were full we traveled to a peanut buying point near Atmore, AL. This particular buying point is the largest in the United States. One of our group members, Mark Philips and his family grows cotton and peanuts in Henry County. He said that their peanuts after harvest go through this buying point. 



Buying points are throughout the southern part of Alabama. After peanuts are harvested they are put in trailers and sent to these buying points where they weigh, clean, dry, inspect, grade and prepare peanuts for storage and shelling. 


If a truck is brought in and the moisture content is too high, they hook up a blower to the holes in the end of the trailer (as you can see in the picture above) and blow air until they dry out and can be stored. If I remember correctly this buying point handles 70 million tons a year of peanuts. 

Fun Fact: DYK that 50% of all peanuts grown in the United States are grown within a 100 mile radius of Dothan, Alabama? 

From there we traveled to the big city of McCullough, AL to the Frank P Currie Gin. Growing up on a cotton farm I have been to several cotton gins, but it always amazes me to see how they work. 

Cotton is brought in on module trucks. A conveyor belt takes it into the gin. 

 This machine is the gin. It separates the seed from the fiber. 

The seeds here are are separated and fall to the bottom

The cotton is in long fluffy sheet. It is stacked up and this machine bundles it up tight and it is then covered in plastic. 

 Each of these weigh around 300 pounds
The seed and lint is moved by a vacuum system to a warehouse where it is stored. It practically fills up the whole building.
The seed after it has been removed from the cotton. 

Cotton seed is very useful. Many people feed it to cattle. It can be used to make oil as well. This here will be carted off to farms to be used for feed. 
The cotton fiber after it is wrapped is placed in a warehouse and sold. Most cotton now goes overseas especially to China to be made into a variety of things. It could be used to make t-shirts, blue jeans, sheets, or even dollar bills! 
Our farm tour was in my opinion a great success. We all learned a lot (some more than others). It will be interesting to see where we journey to in the spring. Like I told Austin, our president, I wish we could take every Friday off and ride back roads of Alabama and look at and learn about crops. It would be nice, but then again I don’t think our professors would take too kindly to that.