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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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