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.


Doing More With Less

Today I had the opportunity to visit Monsanto’s Water Usage Learning Center in Gothanburg, Nebraska.

It was so interesting to learn about the research they are doing with fertilizer, water, drought resistance, weeds, etc. however there was one particular part of the farm that really caught my attention.
There was several strips of crops that my tour guide Robert explained are showing how productivity has increased over the last 80 years and even some examples of corn in its original grass form. I know the stats and try to use them, but to see them in actual for was so interesting.
The first plot was the amount of corn it took to make a bushel in 1930. It took about 580 square feet to make one bushel of corn (a bushel of corn is 56 pounds)

In the 1950’s it took 384 square feet to raise one bushel of corn
In the 1970’s 192 square feet was required for one bushel of corn

In the 1996 136 square feet was required for one bushel. This year was so important to agriculture as this is when RoundUp was introduced. It allowed farmers to spray their fields when weeds were present and not kill the crops they were growing. This not only took care of weeds, but is a conservation practice, farmers do not necessarily have to plow their fields anymore.
Today farmers on average are able to get 165 bushels and acre and a bushel can be grown on only 104 square feet.

What’s next you may ask? By the year 2030 it is Monsanto’s goal for farmers to be able to produce 300 bushels and acre on only 56 square feet of ground! This is quite a feat, but things are heading in the right direction.

It is amazing when you look at the side view of these plots to see the difference form the 1930’s compared to today.
Farmers are efficiency experts. Today’s farmer feeds 155, what a difference from the 19 people fed by one farmer in 1940. They know exactly how to manage their crops in order to be productive. They know approximately how many plants are in their fields in order to be able to know how much fertilizer, water, pesticides, herbicides are to be applied if they are needed. They do not apply anything other than what is needed because it is costly and they have to be careful to conserve our natural resources. They realize more than anyone how important taking care of what the Earth has as more land will not be created 

Doing more with less is not only with row crops but the livestock industry according to (
For example, since 1944, annual production
of milk per cow has quadrupled in the United States,

32 which means we need

far fewer cows to meet the demand for milk. Consequently:
• Modern production of every gallon of milk requires 65 percent less water
and 90 percent less land than it did in 1944.
• 76 percent less manure is being produced for each gallon of milk sold.
• The “carbon footprint” for a gallon of milk in 2007 was 63 percent lower
than it was in 1944.


The story is very much the same for every pound of beef found in the meat case.
• We need nearly a third fewer cattle today to meet demand than we did in 1977.
• Each pound of beef produced in the United States today requires 14 percent
less water and 34 percent less land, and beef production generates 20
percent less manure than in 1977.
• The “carbon footprint” for each pound of beef we buy today is 18 percent
lower than it was a generation ago.

Less land is available today for production with the way our population is growing. So basically today’s farmer is having to do more with less. (I think this means farmers should go into politics). They are using less land, water and implements than they ever have and are more productive than ever.