Historic cotton harvest

UNION COUNTY, Ill. — When Tyler Davis looked out his windows from home this growing season, he didn’t see the usual corn or soybeans.

Instead, he was seeing a crop that at best estimate hasn’t grown in Illinois since the 1920s — cotton.

On Oct. 6, the three generations behind the Davis Land Co. started their first cotton harvest, a day that began with hopeful reviews from their crop adviser that they raised a Grade 3 quality crop.

“Grade 4 is the very best and very rare,” Davis said. “I think we’re OK.”

It’s a sign for Bill Davis, the patriarch of the farm operation, to already plan on more than doubling their cotton acreage from 380 acres this year to 820 acres next year. Bill, 76, runs the farm with his two sons, Marty and Drew, and Tyler, 26, his grandson. Together, they grow corn, soybeans, rice and cotton in some of the state’s richest soil, the American Bottom, the flood plain and ancient riverbed of the Mississippi River.

Relocating from Missouri, the Davis family first settled in Union County in 1948. Bill’s father farmed grain crops and raised beef cattle. The family continued the tradition until about 10 years, when they started to shut down their 3,000-head livestock operation. While corn and beans have been a mainstay, they started rice farming about five years ago and they are one of four Illinois farms growing it. The first cotton was sown this spring and next winter field preparations will begin for yet another cash crop new to Illinois in this century.

“Everyone told us we were crazy to try to grow cotton this far north. Everything that I’ve read, there hasn’t been cotton in Illinois for a long time,” Tyler said.

Cotton Prices

Given the down ag economy and the poor corn and bean prices, Bill pointed out that the cotton prices “look pretty good.”

The Davis cotton will be sold to Missouri-based Stoddard County Cotton Company, a gin owned and operated by Allen Below. The gin will pick up the bales and gin it to remove the seeds and other materials before the cotton goes to Memphis for grading. Only after grading can pricing be determined. Premiums are issued based on whiteness, fiber quality and other factors.

“As soon as word got out that we’d have cotton, they (the gins) came to us. They wanted to be the first ones to gin Illinois cotton,” Tyler said.

Cotton loves well-drained soils like corn, but that’s where the similarities end.

Planting the crop requires mounding the 38-inch rows, a process called hipping. This is can help with drainage or deliver flood irrigation.

The crop requires intensive spraying with growth regulators that focus the plant’s energy on boll production instead of stems. If unsprayed, cotton can spike as tall as seven or eight feet. The Davis’ sprayed nine times this year.

And then there’s another spray application to encourage as many of the bolls possible to open at the same time. The Davis’ worked with their adviser to determine when to harvest.

Harvest timing is critical to the cotton quality, Tyler said. It is sprayed to open a majority of the bolls at the same time. “You want to get in and get it picked. Dew, fog and rain will discolor it and then you start to lose your quality,” he said.

So far, their harvester — Kevin McClurg — says they are bringing in good quality cotton.

“It’s very exciting. It’s so exciting that me and my wife took our maternity pictures out in the cotton. It turned into a big family photo shoot,” Tyler said.

Bill, on the other hand, has a practiced eye watching each step. While they have initially planted 380 acres, it’s also “an amount that makes sense for everyone involved. We’ll have to see what happens. It seems like we have a place for all four crops.”

Source: Miami Herald, U.S.A
Friday, 12 October 2018

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