Professor Scarecrow Cotton

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Vocabulary Quiz


North Carolina grows some crops which are not meant to be eaten. One of these crops is cotton. Many cotton farmers belong to the North Carolina Cotton Promotion commodity group. North Carolina farmers plant many seed varieties of cotton, but the plant basically produces a white fiber.

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No one knows exactly how old cotton is. Some scientists searching caves in Mexico found bits of cotton bols and pieces of cotton cloth that proved to be at least seven thousand years old! In the Indus River Valley in Pakistan and the Nile Valley in Egypt, cotton was being used about 3,000 years before the birth of Christ. Arab merchants brought cotton cloth to Europe about 800 A.D. When Colums discovered America in 1492, he found cotton growing in the Bahama Islands. By 1500, cotton was known throughout the world. Cotton seed are believed to have been planted in Florida in 1556 and in Virginia in 1607. By 1616, colonists were growing cotton along the James River in Virginia.

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The cotton fiber is used to manufacture textiles like towels, cloth and blue jeans. Today, the world uses more cotton than any other fiber and it is a leading cash crop in the United States. Originally, the cotton fiber was used to produce clothing. With changing technology, cotton fiber and cotton seed are both used in a lot of products which makes it more popular and valuable to have. All parts of the cotton plant are useful. The most important is the fiber which is used in making cotton cloth. The short fuzz on the seeds are called linters. They provide cellulose which is used in making plastics and is processed to make batting for padding mattresses, furniture, and automobile cushions. The meats inside the cotton sead are crushed for oil which is used primarily for shortening, cooking oil and salad dressings. The meat is also used for animal feeds and fertilizers. The hulls of the seed are used in livestock feeds and as a soil covering called mulch.

Cotton is planted in-state in mid to late April and harvested in late September, October and November in the Piedmont and Coastal Plains of North Carolina. It is mostly grown in this region because of the soil type there. Cotton does not produce well in soil of high organic matter. A lighter sandier soil is better for cotton. Cotton can also withstand high temperatures and loves full sunlight during its growing season which is common in eastern North Carolina. Cotton prefers temperatures around 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

After it is harvested in the fall, the stalks are cut down and turned under the soil. In the spring, the land is plowed and the soil is broken up to form rows. Seeding is done then with mechanical planters which cover as many as six to eight rows at a time. The planter opens a small trench and drops in the right amount of seed, covers them and packs the earth on top of them. Before mechanization, cotton was picked by hand and delivered to the gin on horse drawn wagons.

After cotton is planted, it takes about seven to ten days before sprouts appear above ground. It normally takes between 160 to 180 days for cotton to grow before it can be harvested. About two months (60 days) after planting, flower buds called squares appear on the cotton plants. In another three weeks the blossoms open. The petals change from creamy white to yellow, pink and then dark red. After three days, they wither and fall, leaving green pods which are called cotton bolls. The boll ripens and turns brown. Finally the boll splits apart and the cotton bursts forth.

Herbicides are used to control weeds and grasses. Grass is the biggest problem to cotton. Machines called cultivators have long been used to uproot weeds and grass and stir the soil around the cotton plant. They are used to clean out weeds and grass between rows where herbicides have not been sprayed. Insecticides are used to control insects and the boll worm.

After harvesting, people used to have to hand pick cotton and go through it pulling out the seeds so that the cotton could be spun. Eli Whitney of Massachusetts decided to change this. While watching workers on a plantation in Georgia separate the fiber from the seed by hand, he made a machine in ten days that did the work fifty times faster. He called it a gin, short for engine and patented it in 1793. His invention made the value of the U.S. cotton crop rise from $150,000 to more than $8 million dollars within ten years. Today an improved version of the cotton gin still is used in the cotton industry.

Today, directly after harvesting, cotton is either stored at the edge of the field in big mounds called modules or loaded on trailer or trucks to be carried to the gin. Powerful pipes suck the cotton into the building and through cleaning machines that remove dirt and trash. It then goes to a gin stand where circular saws with small, sharp teeth pull the fiber from the seed.

From the gin, fiber and seed go different ways. Ginned fiber is called lint and this is pressed together and made into great bales weighing about 480 pounds. Cotton is then graded to determine its value. All cotton is inspected by officials following the United States Department of Agriculture standards. Each bale is sampled at the gin for its quality. Cotton is then classified by its color and fiber strength.

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The seeds are usually sold by the grower at the gin. The ginner sells the seed to the oil mill where the linters are removed and baled and sold for batting and plastics. The seed is then processed into cottonseed oil and meal (flours). These products are then sold to stores or clothing manufacturers.

At the textile mill, the bales are opened by machines and the lint is mixed and cleaned even more by blowing and beating. The short lint that comes out is separated and sold for use in other industries. The best part of the lint consists of fibers about one inch to one and three-quarters inches long. The lint is then mixed and fluffed up and goes into a carding machine which cleans the fibers some more and makes them lie side by side. A combing machine finishes the cleaning and straightening the fibers and makes them into soft untwisted rope called a sliver.

A drawing fram and a slubber, both machines, pull the sliver thinner and give it a twist. When the fiber lieaves the slubber, it is called roing and goes through other machines which twist and pull it some more. Finally, it reaches the spinning frame which gives a last pull and twist. The fiber then leaves the spinning frame on bobbins as cotton yarn. Then machines called looms weave the yarn into fabric. Modern looms work at great speeds, interlacing the lenghtwise yarns (warp) and crosswise yarns (filling). This woven fabric, called grey good, is sent to a finishing plant where it is bleached, pre-shrunk, dyed and printed to be made into clothing and material.

Make sure to check for the cotton logo and made in the United States when shopping for your clothes. And remember that Goodness Grows In North Carolina!!

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1. cash crop: a crop grown for sale that makes money as an important source of income
2. organic matter: particles in the soil such as fertilizers or mulch that has no chemicals or man-made materials
3. textile mill: a place where fabric, fiber or yarn is made

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