Note: I’ll be out of the office Wed-Fri. I’m traipsing off to Yale to give my talk on Thursday.
It’s getting to be that time again. Spring. Time to plant the cotton. If you recall from the last two years running, I follow the cotton crop from the field that lies halfway between my office and the house. As I was driving by yesterday, I saw the field was recently plowed. What’s more, it was being irrigated.
If you know anything about agriculture, you know that if a field is being irrigated, Mr. Farmer is near by. While watering is largely a passive activity, it requires minding. So, I looked around to see if I could finally score an interview with my local cotton farmer. As luck would have it, there were two.
Below are (left to right) Lalo Vasquez and Juan Serrano. Jovial men, Juan says Lalo is better known as “Piporro” or Shorty. Juan did most of the talking. He works for the landowner. Apparently, this plot turned hands over the winter. Lalo and Juan tend this field of 40 acres along with 150 more up the road at mile marker 27. Juan says he’s been tending cotton for seven years. He says that now that things are automated, the landowner makes more money, less work for people like him. He doesn’t like the automated picking machine, says it makes the cotton cochino.
Now I’ll just bet you think this is a languid low stress job -other than the incredibly long working hours. It turns out, they’re commuters. That surprised me. These men commute from Hatch which is about thirty miles north of Las Cruces. By the way, Hatch is the chile capital of the world.
Chatting a bit, I asked how many bales of cotton they get from this field. Juan supplied the yield in terms of “machos” (photo of a macho below). These are the huge huge bales. Juan says they get about 2 machos from a forty acre plot. He says that equals maybe 15-20 bales depending. Some parts of the field are more productive than others. From the macho bales, it’s sent to the local gin. Piporro says the entire valley produces about 1,200 machos (his mother’s cousin manages the gin and he works there part time). The cotton is cleaned of debris and the seed is separated and sold as cattle feed. The cleaned cotton is then re-baled into the standard size bale weighing 500 pounds and shipped off. He claims quite a bit of it goes to a place just north of Austin. Who’d be using it there? We were wondering if he meant a Texas city that begins with “A” because Amarillo is more likely. Lubbock (somewhat close by) is the “silicone valley” of cotton.
Last year, Eric and I watched a cotton harvest south of town (never did write about it). The harvesters trundle up and down the field. Then they come over and dump their load into this -well- macho maker. The macho maker jostles and compresses the cotton as it’s loaded.
Speaking of productivity, Juan mentioned weather and temperature. We’ve all heard too much rain is a problem but I always thought of it in terms of over watering a house plant. Juan says if it rains too much, the humidity makes the flowers sticky so they don’t open. Who knew?
I asked Juan what was the biggest problem with irrigating. He said “mice”. That surprised me. He said the little buggers dig tunnels between the furrows and the water can leak out into the street. Somebody has to mind the field day and night while the water’s running. They do it in shifts and sleep overnight in the cab of their truck. Otherwise, you kind of stand around with a hoe and hope that people (presumably like me) stop by to chat to tide the tedium.
Then I asked about the process, I was thinking they’d planted seed if they were watering. Juan said no, not yet. First the field is plowed to break up the big clods. Then it’s irrigated. Once that seeps in, a truck sprays fertilizer and breaks up more of the clods that were softened up with the water. Then they plant the seed. They do all of this in rotation. He says they’re laying seed in the other acreage up the road all this week and next. Hoping to get photos of the seed being spread, I asked when they’d spread the cotton seed on these forty acres. He said they weren’t. At least not this year. This year they’re planting corn. ~sigh~