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Cotton Gives Life


Cotton Gives Life

Some people are grape-picking in the vineyards of France during the month of September, others are cotton-picking. It's October, the sun shines over the state of Arizona, the weather temperature is perfect. A dream day for the farmers of Eloy and surrounding areas.

A compressed bale of cotton - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009 (click on photos to enlarge)A compressed bale of cotton - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009 (click on photos to enlarge)When asked, how do we go from cotton seed to a cotton product?

Marco Torres, Jr. explained, “First cotton seeds must be planted, irrigated, nurtured with fertilizer, protected from weed sand, insects and then harvested. We plant seeds in April and cotton-pick in October so it can be processed into a product."

Insect pests have plagued the cotton growing industry over the years and they are a source of constant concern to growers who need to protect their fields of cotton. If the insect pest population increases to a level that may severely affect the field's production potential, the grower may then be advised to use an insecticide.  These products may be applied by a ground application vehicle specially designed to avoid damaging the cotton plants.  Airplanes are used for to apply the chemical treatment.

Cotton crops - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009Cotton crops - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009TW: How does it all come together? 

Marco and Jaime smilled:  “Yes, it’s true many people don’t know how it works. Well, we plant the seeds in April and by mid-October; we are ready to cotton-pick.  We are a team of three people, my father, our friend and me. We don’t need more people.”  When ready the bloom on the cotton plant looks pretty much like the cotton balls you buy at the pharmacy.

Cotton growing - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009Cotton growing - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009TW: How do you water the crops since there is so little rain in Arizona?

Marco:  "We have great irrigation and we also do the water application through artificial means along the fields like you see over there.   To enhance root development, adequate water should be available in the soil at the time of sowing and pre-irrigation is required when stored soil water from pre-season rainfall is not available.”

Cotton on the ground next to crops - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009Cotton on the ground next to crops - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009TW: Do you need to plant new seeds every year or do they come back automatically?  

"Every year we must purchase new cotton seeds and plant them. During winter we take the roots out and do some soil preparation." Jaime Hernandez explained.

While farmers across the Cotton Belt (a term applied to a region of the southern United States where cotton was the predominant cash crop from the late 18th century into the 20th century) and even with reduced cotton acreage in 2008 due to higher grain prices, cotton still remains the second largest acreage crop in Arizona. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Arizona field office, about 141,000 acres of cotton were planted in 2008, compared to 170,500 cotton acres harvested in 2007. (source: ag.arizona.edu) 

The mechanical cotton picker is a machine that automates cotton harvesting in a way that reduces harvest time and maximizes efficiency - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009The mechanical cotton picker is a machine that automates cotton harvesting in a way that reduces harvest time and maximizes efficiency - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009Cotton has become even more valuable so planters are growing more cotton to export.  A cotton picker covers a huge field very fast then brings it to the “macho” machine which has the ability to take massive amounts of cotton and bundle them into tightly compacts bails for storage or shipping.  As the mechanical cotton picker moves through the field, the cotton plants are guided through the picker head (a unit that contains the picking components). It's much faster than in the old days and we no longer have the need for a large work force." Marco Torres, Jr. added

Jaime Hernandez and Marco Torres, Jr. of Eloy in front ofan automatic cotton balerr - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009Jaime Hernandez and Marco Torres, Jr. of Eloy in front ofan automatic cotton balerr - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009TW: We see the bales sitting along the field waiting to be picked-up, where do you ship them to?

Marco: "Yes, a large trailer truck comes to haul the compressed bales to a cotton gin (short for engine) to weigh them and clean the cotton balls; a place where seed and fiber are mechanically separated. “ This process is called "cotton ginning."  The cotton is then spun into a fine thread, and then woven into fabric, much like other types of fabrics (silk, wool, etc.).

Jaime Hernandez gets ready for the dumping of cotton into the baler surnamed 'macho' - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009Jaime Hernandez gets ready for the dumping of cotton into the baler surnamed 'macho' - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009In 1793, Eli Whitney invented a machine for cleaning cotton called a gin, after visiting the Georgia Plantation of Catherine Greene, the widow of a Revolutionary War general.   A worker could clean just one pound of cotton in a day but now the gin can clean as much as 50 pounds of cotton a day. It made short-fibered cotton a commercial product and changed Southern life forever.  About two hundred years ago, cotton production was a very important industry and helped to enslave thousands of people in the South.

Dumping of Cotton into the baler - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009Dumping of Cotton into the baler - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009The fabric usually used in the clothes we wear is produced through two processes, the “spinning process” where raw cotton is turned into thread, and the “weaving process” where the thread is woven into fabric. Textile mills purchase cotton and receive the bales from gin yards or cotton warehouses.  These mills start with raw bales of cotton and process them in stages until they produce yarn (fibers twisted into threads used in weaving or knitting) or cloth (fabric or material constructed from weaving or knitting). Machines called "looms" weave cotton yarn into fabric the same way the first hand weaving frames did.

Jaime Hernandez compresses the cotton while Marco Torres is dumping his load of cotton into the baler - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009Jaime Hernandez compresses the cotton while Marco Torres is dumping his load of cotton into the baler - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009Turning Cotton Into Jeans:

Needless to say all true blue jeans start out as a plant. The cotton plant is grown in many places, not limited too but including, Colombia, Greece, Israel, Pakistan, Senegal, Spain, Syria and Togo and of course in the USA.

Cotton is a plant that starts out as a seed and is grown and then it is harvested into large bales. It is the taken to a textile mill that then separates the lint where it gets mixed and cleaned it is then sent to a device known as a carding machine. This machine uses a combing action to clean and straighten the fibers and turns the lint into a soft untwisted string called a sliver (pronounced sly-ver).

Dumping of Cotton - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009Dumping of Cotton - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009A spinning device then takes the sliver and twists it into a continuous fiber that is then wrapped around a spool. This is now yarn that is suitable for weaving or knitting into fabrics.

This cotton yarn is then taken to a machine called a loom. Modern looms weave cotton yarn into fabrics the much the same way the first hand weaving frames did. In fact in many non-industrial countries these frames still make fabric today. However modern mechanized looms work at great speeds.

Marco Torres (father) driving the cotton picker - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009Marco Torres (father) driving the cotton picker - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009The yarn that runs the length of the fabric is known as the warp and the crosswise yarn is known as the filling. It is this warp and filling that gives jeans their distinctive course pattern.  This raw jean material is then sent to a finishing plant where it is bleached, pre-shrunk, dyed, or given a special finish before being made into blue jeans.

The story of Denim blue Jeans:

‘Denim’ is probably a corruption of the French serge de Nîmes,  (serge is a type of twill fabric that has diagonal lines or ridges on both sides, made with a two-up, two-down weave) a twill-weave fabric made in Nîmes during the 17th century. French serge is a softer fabric, finer variety. The composition of The Denim Fabrics consists of 100% cotton.

100% cotton blue jeans100% cotton blue jeansAnother European fabric, a ‘fustian’. Fustian is a term for a variety of heavy woven, mostly cotton fabrics, chiefly prepared for menswear. It embraces plain twilled cloth called jean, and cut fabrics similar to velvet, known as velveteen, moleskin, corduroy etc. The original medieval fustian was a stout but respectable cloth with a cotton weft and a linen warp, derived from El-Fustat, a suburb of Cairo, where it was first made, although manufacture soon spread to Europe. Fustian was worn by workers during the 19th century. The historian Paul Pickering has called the wearing of fustian "a statement of class without words."

Compressed cotton into the baler ready to be delivered to the cotton gin (short for cotton engine) is a machine that quickly and easily separates the cotton fibers from the seeds - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009Compressed cotton into the baler ready to be delivered to the cotton gin (short for cotton engine) is a machine that quickly and easily separates the cotton fibers from the seeds - photo by Annick, Eloy, AZ, 23 October 2009The word has come to denote a class of heavy cotton fabrics, some of which have pile surfaces, including moleskin, velveteen, and corduroy) made from a cotton, linen and/or wool blend – was known as ‘jean’ after the sailors of Genoa, Italy, who wore it. By the 18th century, as slave labour, trade and cotton plantations developed, jean cloth was being made entirely of cotton and was valued for its durability. Indigo blue, extracted from plants in the Americas and India, became a familiar colour for workwear.

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