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.


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.


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.


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


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



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


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.


Why Do We Do What We Do?

About two weeks ago now I spoke at the Auburn Kiwanis Club on current topics in agriculture and at the end of my presentation a gentleman asked “Farming is not an easy job, why do people like you want to do it?” I have always recognized that farming is not the easiest job to have, but I have always thought of it as being a rewarding job. Over the last few weeks and especially after Dodge’s Super Bowl Commercial based on the Paul Harvey Segment “God Made A Farmer” I have thought more about WHY people continue to farm.

Growing up, farming was what my dad did, what my grandfather had done. At the age of only a few weeks old I have pictures where my mom had taken me to the cotton field to visit my dad when he was harvesting. My brothers and I grew up enjoying the farm life, we rode equipment with dad and his workers, traveled all over Limestone County with mom as she would help dad move from one field to the other during planting, harvest and all in between.

At a young age I do not think we understood the importance of what he was doing. I clearly remember my little brother Thomas when he was a few years old asking my dad “Daddy, when are you going to get a REAL job?” of course everyone laughed at that. It wasn’t until we were older that we realized what a REAL job farming is.That is one thing I try to impress upon young kids when I visit schools, I put it to them like this “farmers have jobs just like their parents, but instead of driving to the office, they go out and grow our food.”

Like with any job, some days in farming are better than others. There are the days when tractors won’t start, you lock the keys in the truck, animals die, belts break, employees don’t show up, not enough rain, too much rain, extreme heat, and extreme cold. Whatever the circumstances things still have to be finished. Crops nor animals can wait for better weather, vacations to be over, etc. I often run into people who question farmers and their care of their animals. They often will scoff that “farmers are only doing it for the money.” In a sense that is true, it is a business you have to retain profitability in order to keep going (however every year profitability does not always happen). Farmers show the utmost care and concern for their livestock and their well-being. Right now for example it is winter time in most parts of the country (Alabama’s weather has not yet realized it is winter), but winter time can be tough to function outdoors, must less have to care for livestock like my friend Melissa Keyes and her family does out in Springfield, Nebraska. Currently they have about 150 mama cows that will be having calves within the next two months. No matter the conditions they provide the best care for their Angus cattle.

Right before Christmas she explained some of the challenges snow provides for their farm and even talked about how Christmas morning was like any other morning until the cows were fed and the snow was shoveled out of the bunkers. Other friends have talked about times when they had to postpone vacations, dates, and other events due to sick or pregnant animals. Would you postpone a family vacation because your dog or cat was sick?

When it all comes down to it I think one of the main reasons farmers continue to do what they do amist the challenges they face is pride. Not a bad kind of pride, pride in the product of their toil. I’m starting to see that through my own experiences. As I have mentioned previously I am growing my first crops of my own this year. I am so proud of my wheat! I planted it in November and it is coming along so nicely. I love watching it grow and figuring out the best way to make sure it is harvested successfully.  

My brother went home this weekend and I was not able to, but I was so excited to get to see the pictures of how it has grown since I saw it last. My dad has often talked about cotton. It is a pretty cantankerous crop to grow. It takes a lot of oversight and adjusting throughout its growing span, but when it is opening up and has reached maturity it is something you look at and are proud of. Farmers take pride in what they produce whether it be a cow, cotton, catfish, peanuts, alfalfa, you name it. Also farmers take great pride in what they are doing: feeding their families, country and world. We are adding a million people to the world’s population every five days which is equal to a Chicago every week! Farmers are a necessity to feed all of these new people being added to the world daily. Farmers also take pride in their lifestyle. A lot of my friends in other colleges here at Auburn have the idea that being an “ag major” is just that an ag major. Being an agriculture major is so much more than just a course of study. It is a way of life and extremely important to the continued survival of mankind. Farmers take pride in the life lessons and values learned on the farm.

Farmers love what they do and take pride in it, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. They love the land, their animals, people, the sun, rain, and the challenge. It is a job demanding of their time and physical bodies, but it is a noble profession and wonderful way of life. I know I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. I realize it is not for everyone and I’m not saying anyone who doesn’t is inferior. The pride and love of agriculture and its future is what keeps me and two million other farmers in the United States plowing on.