Cotton flies as harvest nears completion

Published 6:20 pm Monday, November 28, 2005

By By Janet Little Cooper
Cotton is a part of everyday life in our area. Not only do we see it everywhere we go, but also we lie in it to sleep, wash and dry with it when we wake, and wear it all day. Indeed, cotton is the fabric of life.
Cotton is used more than any other fiber in the world. Among its many uses, clothing and household items account for the most use and industrial products such as plastics account for thousands of bales.
Every part of the cotton plant is used. The fiber or lint is the most important part, which is used in making cotton cloth. A short fuzz on the seed called linters provides cellulose for making plastics as well as other products such as high quality paper products. The cottonseed consists of three useful components – oil, meal and hulls. The oil is used in shortening, cooking oil and salad dressings. The meal and hull are a high protein, high fat supplement used for cattle feed. Then the remaining stalks left in the field are plowed under to enrich the soil for future crops.
Our area is familiar with the ever-changing look of the cotton fields. At first sight, motorists see freshly plowed rows where the seed has been planted. And then about two months into the process, flower buds begin to appear. As the buds open in another month, petals of white to yellow, then pink and finally, dark red take over the field. After a couple of days, the petals wither and fall leaving green pods, or cotton bolls. It is inside this boll, where the moist fibers grow and push out from the newly formed seed. The fibers expand until they split the now brown boll apart and show a burst of fluffy cotton transforming the fields into a scene similar to a winter wonderland blanketed in snow. At this point, the crop is ready for harvest.
Cotton is the most valued crop in the United States due to the $120 million of revenue that is stimulated because of it.
Cotton production in Es. Co. Fla., alone covers an area of 11,088 acres with yields that go up and down.
"I have seen some cotton better than I have ever seen it this year," Charles Woodward, USDA Farm Service Agent said. "I've seen a field on one side of the road, be absolutely perfect, while the cotton right across the road is terrible. You can look at a cotton field that is absolutely beautiful and the crop be bad."
Local farmers are about halfway through harvest and not much is known yet about the year's production to all the fields are picked and ginned.
"Planting days are a major factor in the process," Woodward said. "It depends on what stage of growth the cotton was in when we were hit with the storms. Some of the fields came out fine. We did an assessment after the storm and settled on a 30 percent loss, but now into the harvest, we realize that it wasn't that bad. It is perfect right here around Thanksgiving – we have so much to be thankful for."
According to Woodward, farmers have an expectation of producing over 800 pounds of cotton per acre. Anything above 800 is considered excellent, 800 average and anything below is bad.
West Florida Gin trucks are frequenting area roadways to pick up modules of cotton that farmers have picked and named ready to be ginned.
"The whole harvest has seen about a months delay due to the storms, but on the other hand, the dry, warm October and November has been tremendous for harvest," Mark Johnson, General Manager of West Florida Gin said. "The fields look great, but for some reason, some yields aren't as good as they look. The weight is just not there. They probably would have been okay without the storms."
Johnson along with the farmers is pleased with this years harvest thus far. According to Johnson, the price of cotton is down due to the massive crop of cotton being produced across the cotton belt.
"This is the 2nd best crop ever grown in the U.S., " Johnson said, "Last year was the best."
Johnson has a crew of dedicated workers who work from dawn to dark taking the cotton through each process of the gin.
The modules are unloaded, broken apart and sucked through large pipes to the gin. The cotton is then put through a dryer and through cleaning machines that remove the gin waste such as dirt, stems and leaf and material from the cotton. Then it goes to the gin stand where the fiber is plucked form the seed.
The fiber, now referred to as lint, is pressed together and made into bales weighing approximately 500 pounds.
Two samples from each bale are individually bagged and tagged identifying the type cotton, farmer and field it came from. The samples are used to test its quality, color, strength, and cleanness. Once the cotton is baled it is bought by a marketing association and shipped accordingly.
The seed from the cotton is typically given to the gin in a form of trade to offset ginning cost. The seed is then sold by the gin to feed suppliers.
"West Florida averages between 15 to 20 thousand bales a harvest," Johnson said. "It takes 1300 pounds of seed cotton to make one 500 bale."
Mark Johnson is a native of Walnut Hill, Fla. He is a farmer in addition to managing the gin. Johnson has worked at West Florida Gin since 2002

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