Cotton bolls rolling in to gin

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 14, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

The worries of early springtime in Suffolk have dried up and blown away with the strong blustery winds and warm sunny days of fall as local farmers ride cotton picking machines through the snow-white fields. Great smiles of appreciation break across weather-lined faces as they consider that good other &uot;Mother Nature&uot; came through in the end.

Take farmer Richard M. Williams III, for instance. He is the grandson of Richard M. Williams Sr. of the 50-year old Pursang Dairy Farm, which was a thriving dairy farm, one of the largest in Virginia, up until 1998.

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The Williams farm is currently in the middle of harvesting 450 acres of cotton, and Richard Williams III said this week that it is the first year the farm has not produced peanuts.

&uot;I just felt that cotton was a little less risky financially considering what’s happened to the price supports and peanut quotas,&uot; said Williams. &uot;Cotton prices have gone up to the mid-70 to 80 cents per pound, and considering that a bale of cotton weighs about 480 pounds, it’s a fairly lucrative crop in a good year.&uot;

Williams added that this is definitely looking like a good year, in spite of a few problems just after planting the seeds for the fluffy white crop.

While Williams has not set figures to paper, he’s counting on about 900 pounds per acre, an amount a little above average.

&uot;The way this spring was…, so much rainfall and cool days brought slow development,&uot; said Williams. &uot;I feel fortunate to have the crop I have. The summer was better with adequate rainfall. This fall has been not quite perfect, but a lot better than last year.&uot;

Williams and his farm crew are experiencing a not quite instant replay out in the wide open fields this year.

&uot;I’m picking some fields that I’ve picked twice in the same calendar year,&uot; said Williams. &uot;We didn’t finish picking the 2002 crop until January, and now we’re into the 2003 crops. With the weather the way it has been, we expect to pick it out within the next 10 days. The weather last fall was miserable and we couldn’t get the crop out until January.&uot;

This year, Hurricane Isabel took its toll, of course, but Williams said he doesn’t believe lost more than five or 10 percent of his crop.

&uot;I think what saved us from the hurricane was that we got more wind than rain; therefore we got less boll rot,&uot; said Williams. &uot;If the storm had dumped more water on the crop, then we would have been in trouble.&uot;

Another Suffolk cotton producer, Jesse D. Williams, has diversified the Williams Cattle Company farm and raises about 100 acres of cotton. He agrees that this is looking like a good cotton year.

&uot;Harvest proceeding quickly now with this weather,&uot; said Williams. &uot;We are pushing hard to get it out with good quality and good color to it.&uot;

Once the cotton has been harvested by the field machines, it is deposited in huge &uot;bales&uot; across the fields. They may be seen covered by large blue or yellow tarps. They rest in the fields until they are loaded onto trailers and moved to cotton gins where the cotton will be separated from the husk.

Locally, Suffolk Cotton Gin is running at full capacity, 24-hours a day-seven days a week to &uot;gin&uot; the cotton being brought in for cleaning and storage. Ginning the cotton means separating the seeds and husks from the soft cotton bolls.

Clarence Riddick, manager of the Suffolk Cotton Gin , said this fall’s ginning began Oct. 20th and it has been running steadily ever since.

&uot;We’re getting in some quality cotton and ginning is current with farmers’ harvest,&uot; said Riddick. &uot;We’re only about three days behind the farmer, and the 2003 crop is certainly exhibiting top quality which is positive for revenue and for the industry.&uot;

Riddick said Hurricane Isabel arrived on the scene causing some concern for the cotton acreage, but damage was minimal. Riddick said that with good weather, the crop will be &uot;squared away&uot; by December.

At the cotton gin, about 110 &uot;modules,&uot; or 16,000 to 24,000 pound bales, of cotton dot the landscape surrounding the ginning machines. The gins consume 40 to 45 modules a day as fluffy white bales are dumped from the cotton carts into the module builder.

The average module is assumed about 20,000 pounds and makes into 15 to 16 bales at around 500 pounds each.

The bales of cotton, once ginned, go into storage at Suffolk Cotton Gin until requested by the merchant or cooperative for domestic use or the export market.

&uot;Right now, we are exporting more than we use domestically,&uot; said Riddick. &uot;Right now we’re estimating a 17 million bale U.S. crop, of which approximately two-thirds will be exported and one-third will be used domestically. China is currently buying a large amount of U.S. cotton because they’ve had adverse weather conditions this year. Generally, India or Pakistan purchase most of the cotton.&uot;

Riddick also had good news for local farmers who have invested 13,000 acres of cropland into cotton production this year.

&uot;It’s always a question of who produces the most cotton; China or U.S,&uot; said Riddick. &uot;Even though their crop is way down, they will still produce more cotton for the current physical year than we will. &uot;With their short crop the market has appreciated over the last 60 days. They are in the market buying and that has driven the price up 20 cents per pound.&uot;