The following photo essay was created by University of Missouri student Kile Brewer as part of the 2011 Sonja Hillgren/Farm Journal Ag Journalism Field Reporting Institute.
Times Have Changed
Charles Parker touches a cotton plant at Parker & Jones farm, which he co-owns, near Senath, Mo. Charles Parker knows cotton well, and is the 2011 chairman of the National Cotton Council. In his youth, Parker had to pick cotton by hand, but technology has taken hold of cotton farming, and the harvest is much different now.
Herbicide jugs sit on a pallet at Charles Parker's farm. Herbicides have been key to cotton farming. Until recently, with genetically modified cotton the herbicide could be sprayed over an entire field, killing the weeds and leaving the cotton unharmed. But some weeds are now able to survive.
Charles Parker cuts a cotton boll with his pocketknife to determine if the plant is mature. Farmers will take a boll from the fifth node down on a plant and cut it in half. If the seeds have a black ring on the inside then the plant is mature and ready to be sprayed with defoliant and harvested.
Hi-Cycle Sprayer applies defoliant to a field of mature cotton near Senath, Mo. The defoliant kills the cotton plant, causing the leaves to fall off and the bolls to open up; this is the last step before harvest. Two weeks after defoliant is sprayed the field will be picked.
Prepping the Pickers
Two John Deere pickers sit outside the shop at Charles Parker's Farm near Senath, Mo. When the harvest starts, prepping the pickers is a necessary chore every morning before a day of picking.
Landon Small adjusts the flag on his picker at his father’s farm near Senath, Mo. The harvest starts around late September or early October and lasts about a month.
Byron Small watches as his son, Landon, picks cotton on the family’s farm near Senath, Mo. Today's cotton picker can pick six rows of cotton and pack it into round modules. This technology has made cotton production faster and more economical.
Metal teeth line the inside of the head on a cotton picker. As the picker moves through the field, these serrated teeth snag the lint and pull it away from cotton plants and into the picker where it will be packed into a module.
A cotton picker near Portagevlle, Mo., turns at the edge of the field and drops off a freshly packed round module. This is the end of harvesting cotton. From here the module will be picked up and carried on a truck to a local cotton gin.
The Final Step
, wires and warning signs make up the inside of a cotton gin, along with the specialized ginning equipment. A cotton gin is like a large production factory where the seeds are separated from the cotton lint so that the lint can be graded and sold for textile production.
Ready for Sale
Charles Parker demonstrates the ginning process with his hands. After ginning, the seeds should all be separated out, leaving the lint for the gin to sell for textile production.
A picker, bottom left, near Portageville, Mo., stays in the field after sunset. Cotton farmer Lewis Rone said that when the yield is good, a typical farmer stays on his picker until at least 9 or 10 p.m. The goal is to finish when cotton yield is high and without rain in the middle of harvest. The rain hurts cotton quality.