Cotton: From Field to Fabric(Chapter 1)
The Cotton Belt spans the southern half of the Unites States, from
Virginia to California. Cotton is grown in17
states and is a major crop in 14. Its growing season of
approximately 150 to 180 days is the longest of any
annually planted crop in the country. Since there is much variation
in climate and soil, production practices
differ from region to region. In the western states, for example,
nearly the entire crop is irrigated. Planting
begins in February in south Texas and as late as June in northern
areas of the Cotton Belt. Land preparation
actually starts in the fall, shortly after harvest. Stalks from the
old crop are shredded to reduce food supplies
for overwintering pests. Usually, this residue is left on the
surface to protect the soil from erosion. The use of
heavy mechanical harvesters compacts the soil, sometimes requiring
tillage to loosen the soil for the next
Planting is accomplished with 6, 8, 10 or 12-row precision planters
that place the seed at a uniform depth and
interval. Young cotton seedlings emerge from the soil within a week
or two after planting, depending on
temperature and moisture conditions. Squares, or flower buds, form
a month to six weeks later and creamy to
dark yellow blossoms appear in another three weeks. Pollen from the
flower’s stamen is carried to the stigma,
thus pollinating the ovary. Over the next three days, the blossoms
gradually turn pink and then dark red before
falling off, leaving the tiny fertile ovary attached to the plant.
It ripens and enlarges into a pod called a cotton
boll. Individual cells on the surface of seeds start to elongate
the day the red flower falls off (abscission),
reaching a final length of over one inch during the first month
after abscission. The fibers thicken for the next
month, forming a hollow cotton fiber inside the watery boll. Bolls
open 50 to 70 days after bloom, letting air in
to dry the white, clean fiber and fluff it for harvest.
Cotton grows slowly in the spring and can be shaded out easily by
weeds. If weeds begin to overpower the
seedling cotton, drastic reductions in yield can result. Later in
the season, cotton leaves fully shade the ground
and suppress mid-to-late season weeds. For these reasons, weed
control is focused on providing a 6 to 8-
week weed-free period directly following planting. Producers employ
close cultivation and planters that place
the cottonseed deep into moist soil, leaving weed seeds in high and
dry soil. Herbicides or cultivation controls
weeds between the rows.
Will be continued in the next chapter.
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