Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Life of Cotton

If I ever write my autobiography, the first line will be, “My earliest memory is of cotton.”  My playpen was in the front room of a cotton gin office.  I knew the farmers who brought their cotton to my dad’s gin so well that I thought of all of them as my “uncles.”  I always loved the clink-clank sound made by the big black weights of the old manual scale when a trailer load of cotton pulled over the deck.  When I heard that sound, I knew one of my “uncles” was about to come in and if I was lucky, they would buy a 5 cent soft drink in a thick green glass bottle from the old red soda machine and give me the first sip.
The Paymaster Gin in Ackerly that  was ran by my Grandpa Earl, about 1956
The Paymaster Gin my Dad ran in Brown, about 1959

The new Paymaster Gin my Dad built between Ackerly and Brown, about 1966
My Grandpa, Earl Brasher, was a cotton gin manager from the 1920's.  My Dad, Dan Brasher, was the youngest gin manager that Paymaster had ever hired when he became the manager of the Brown Gin at 21 years old in 1956.  Being the daughter of a second generation cotton ginner, and now married to a multi-generational cotton farmer, I consider the excitement of that first load of cotton as the beginning of the best time of the year, time to harvest and gin cotton! The local newspapers will run a little story each year of the farmer who harvests the first bale of cotton in the county, sometimes with a photo of the farmer and ginner standing with the actual bale of cotton.  I can't seem to find it, but I remember my Dad standing beside one of his smiling farmers in one of those little newspapers.
My Dad playing in front his his Dad's gin in Truscott, Texas, about 1945

Me and my little sister, Cindy, playing in front of our Dad's gin, the Ackerly-Brown Gin, about 1968

Growing up on my Dad's gin yard is about as good as it gets when you are a kid.  There were endless places to play hide and seek up and down the rows of cotton trailers and bales of cotton. Later, much to my Dad's dismay, those same places made for great motorcross trails for a bunch of Junior High kids on dirt bikes! While rummaging through the old photos, I came across a letter of reference for my Grandpa Earl.  Seems he was a mighty good gin manager back in the early 30's. 
Part of a letter about my Grandpa Earl from 1931.

Me and my Grandpa Earl about 1961
My seasons are not marked by a calendar, but by watching all the different colors that paint across the fields of cotton throughout the year.  Bright crayon green as it peeks up out of the ground in the spring.  Soft butter yellow flowers that turn baby girl pink, then just briefly a gem stone purple before falling off as it produces the boll in the summer.  Deep olive green and rusty red leaves as fall approaches.  Crispy brown and bridal gown white as the bolls pop open to dry in the sunshine, waiting for the best time of the year, time to harvest and gin cotton.  I have been wrapped in the the fabric of our lives quite literally my entire life, and what a beautiful, colorful life it is.

Since this is for Father's Day, here are a couple more photos of my Dad.  He was not just a gin manager, he loved big trucks and fast race horses too!  Make sure to listen to this link for a great song from my son, Billy Dan Langley, singing about Paymaster with a video showing some great footage of my Dad's gin and a community cotton harvest he organized for a friend fighting cancer:  Workin' for the Paymaster  

*Adapted from a blog I wrote for my friend Janice Person on A Colorful Adventure.
Dad finally got his own big truck to haul the cotton bales to the compress, 1980

One of Dad's horses, Ka Cee Bim, in the winner's circle at Sunland Park, 1981

Monday, March 24, 2014

GMO Cotton's not perfect.....WHAT??

For two years now, I have raved about the benefits of the GMO cottonseed that The Farmer I Kiss plants.  So why now would I say it's not perfect??  Well, that's because besides a beautiful newborn grandchild, nothing in the world is perfect.
This is a low lying lake area that Daniel was not able to plow after planting
It took me several tries to get permission from Daniel to show these photos.  Why?  Because farmers don't like their fields to look messy and this is pretty messy.  If you are not all that familiar with cotton fields, you may just think that this is a photo of cotton waiting to be harvested.  You would be wrong.  This part of the field has been harvested.  What you are seeing is called Volunteer Cotton.
Our varieties are storm resistant, but some locks still wind up on the ground
Throughout the growing season, locks of cotton can fall out of the burr to the ground.  Also, as we harvest in the fall, pieces of cotton fall to the ground.  Both of these situations result in cotton which contains cottonseed lying on the ground.  The next spring, those seed sprout and grow Volunteer Cotton in the blank spaces between the newly planted rows of cotton, essentially making those Volunteer Cotton plants "weeds."
The Volunteer Cotton plants usually sprout early in the season, and are more mature than the cotton in the rows. 
The smaller stalks are from the cotton planted in the rows.  The larger stalk is a Volunteer Cotton stalk.
The definition of a weed on a cotton farm is any plant that is growing and taking valuable nutrients and more valuable water away from the rows of planted cotton.  The rouge Volunteer Cotton plants must be controlled just like any other weed because they are not harvestable in the fall.  (Disclaimer:  There are ways to harvest cotton that is not in the rows, but that requires additional harvesting equipment, fuel or trips over the field which makes the process close to impossible.)
Notice the small amount of cotton that is left on the ground after the cotton stripper has passed.
So here's the part about GMO cottonseed being less than perfect.  The particular varieties of GMO cottonseed that we plant has the genetic trait from the pansy flower that allows us to spray glyphosate herbicide (the chemical in Round-Up) in the field of growing cotton.  This kills the weeds but leaves the cotton unharmed.  But since the Volunteer Cotton that we are considering a weed is resistant to the herbicide, it does not die like the other weeds.
This is in another low lying lake area on the farm of a neighbor.  Notice the harvested rows of bare stalks.
To control the Volunteer Cotton, you have to get the plows back out and plow between the rows of cotton.  Not having to plow the land after it is planted is the whole idea behind planting GMO cottonseed with the glyphosate resistant genetic trait.  The Farmer I Kiss would get to plant and then leave the soil undisturbed to preserve the moisture, but the Volunteer Cotton issue is requiring an early plowing.
This is more representative of the Volunteer Cotton population where the field was plowed early after planting.
One solution is to rotate between varieties of cottonseed that would have resistance to another herbicide such as Dicamba.  That way, the field could be sprayed with a herbicide that your planted cotton is resistant to, but the Volunteer Cotton would not be resistant to it.  Another solution is to rotate the fields with wheat or grain sorghum from year to year.  This allows for different types of herbicides to be used to rid the fields of the Volunteer Cotton plants.  We do have a rotation plan, but we plant cotton for 2 to 3 years in a row before rotating.  So in the meantime, The Farmer I Kiss gets to plow, which he really loves to do, so he really doesn't mind the fact that GMO cotton is not perfect!
When this is the result, some small imperfections are easy to deal with!
Updated:  After a few questions, I thought it would be good to add a little more information.  (1) Why not just leave the Volunteer Cotton Plants?  They get really big and grow very big stalks, which takes a huge amount of water.  Something we have very little of out here next to the Chihuahuan Desert! (2) Why not spray a different herbicide before you plant to kill the Volunteer Cotton and the weeds.  The herbicide that you would have to use can damage or destroy growing grain crops that may be too close to your field.  Drift with these other herbicides is a big problem and one that we choose to avoid.  Round Up does not have quite the drift problems of other herbicides, so we use that exclusively at this time.  (3)  What kind of machine would you have to use to harvest the Volunteer Cotton.  I posted a link here to see the different header (part out in front that gathers the cotton) that would be put on the cotton stripper to get the cotton that is either not in rows or in ultra narrow rows.  It would mean changing out the the front part of the stripper, a pretty major task, then driving all over your field again, which is bad for compacting the soil and using lots of fuel.