This weekend, I accidentally called a friend who farms (ok, I butt dialed him) and he called me back. We enjoyed the serendipity of it all and had a good visit.
As is always the case, weather was a major discussion point. Seems not only was Memphis cooler and wetter than I’d like but he could definitely identify. As would be expected, I said it’s’ different with cotton and he asked why, knowing he doesn’t like wet soybeans sitting in the field either!
Why is rain so bad on cotton at harvest time?
There are several reasons that I think it is especially bad for cotton to sit out in the rain. So many that I decided to take a brief break on the side of the highway as I headed back to St. Louis and shoot a short video. But of course I missed some stuff so I’m going to write out a few things as well as share the video.
Different Cotton Harvest Problems From Rain
Let’s face it, when rain is puddling up, you can’t take a big ol’ cotton picker through the field for a variety of reasons. But even when it just seems a bit damp, farmers worry about the soil. One thing farmers have to think about is getting equipment stuck in the field which is a real pain but going on a field when it is wet, also leads to rutting up the field (yes I can remember being not smart enough to rut up a yard). Compaction means the soils get tightly packed which makes it harder for roots to grow, for water to filter through, etc. If you compact the field in the fall, you may well end up doing field work in the spring.
Fiber Quality Losses
Have you ever left your favorite t-shirt wadded up in a ball after going to the gym? Or maybe left a wet towel somewhere? Well, if you have, you probably learned cotton can get mildewy or something when it is wet. Sometimes it leaves spots on the fabric too. Same thing can happen in the field and that means a reduced price because that cotton can’t be used for some of the nicer uses.
Stringout Can Lead to Yield Loss
Rain water can put a weight issue at play making cotton lint strain toward the ground. This issue of “stringout.” is a problem because often wind or rain actually turns that into fallout and then the cotton ends up on the ground instead of in a bale.
Picking & Ginning issues
If cotton lint is wet, it doesn’t play well with big machines! Cotton pickers pull the lint off of plants on spindles, so they twist the fiber a bit to pull it off. If the fiber is wet, it is more likely to get stuck and start jamming up the spindles/picker. The same kind of issues happen with the gin as saw are pulling fiber away. In fact, because of these issues, farmers pay close attention to dew during harvest and prefer to pick once the sun has dried things out.
While those picking and ginning may not sound like a big deal, they really are. Cottonseed is part of the process in the field and the gin and it is an oilseed which means it is flammable! Far too often, those of us in the cotton industry hear of a picker or gin fire. We can also hear about module fires (modules are the big ol heavily compacted ways we store cotton to take it to the gin.
Issues with Cottonseed
Another area of issues that people may not think about… the cottonseed seed coat (that hard outside that protects the embryo) can weaken with moisture. That not only means the seed gets soft, but the embyro may actually decide to come out early. What that means is basically, a new cotton plant tries to start growing right there in the boll! And even if that doesn’t happen, the softer seed coat can get nicked by the saws at the gin causing some real issues — I mean you don’t want little chips of cottonseed coat in your nice cotton sheets!
You may find it funny, but can you imagine getting a cotton picker stuck in the mud? The piece of equipment is expensive (hundreds of thousands of dollars) and time is of the essence in the fall. You don’t want to play around and get stuck. I know I wouldn’t! That would make me feel so stupid!
If you are interested in cotton, there are a lot of posts in the timeless cotton 101 series or simply in the cotton category. There are even a couple of posts about rain being a problem in 2012 and other seasons.