Old King Cotton

Walt Grayson travels to the Delta and explains why we see fewer fields of cotton today.

Cotton has been grown and harvested in Mississippi almost since the colonists and pioneers first settled here. It is a crop that is ever evolving, however. For instance, it wasn’t all that long ago that the roadside would be frosty with cotton blown from the open trailers hauling it to the gin. Now the roadside is relatively clean. Not because cotton isn’t still hauled, but just not hailed in open trailers anymore. Now it is wrapped into round bundles and stored right in the field where it is picked until it is ready to be ginned. Then taken all bundled up to be processed, the lint and the seed separated, and packed into traditional bales.

We don”t plant as much cotton as we used to. I’ve been told there are lots of reasons for that, mainly because the price of cotton isn’t all that high, especially compared to what it takes to raise a crop nowadays. Now for instance, the new rolled and wrapped cotton. It isn’t cheep to go buy more equipment to do a job for which you can’t pass along the added expense when you sell the crop. So that’s why you see so many acres of corn and soybeans and peanuts now.

However, mechanization makes it less labor intensive to raise a cotton crop. An old planter told me back in the 50”s it took 10 families sharecropping to take care of a hundred acres of cotton. He said one man on a tractor could do that by himself now. And moreover, with GPS guiding the tractor, you don”t even need the man, today.

But some things never change. I was talking to a planters wife in Ruleville this week and she was telling me that she remembers when all of the merchants in town were all interested in how the crop was going to be that year. Not only the banker, but everybody from the jeweler and car dealer to the pest control man. Everybody”s Christmas and winter hung on the cotton crop, whether planter or not.
To a great extent we are still a state that depends on agriculture and good crops for a living. And planter or not, a good stand of October cotton is nice to see.