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Echoes of Effingham: Looking at cotton in Georgia

POSTED: September 4, 2017 6:34 p.m.

It is a beautiful sight to see lush green fields of cotton in bloom on the farm today. The photograph does not show the rosy pink and white blooms in black and white as it does in color. Sufficient rain so far is in favor of the farmer this year despite some late planting times due to heavy spring rains. When the colony of Georgia was established as a British Colony in 1733, cotton seed was brought to Savannah and planted in the Trustees Garden. Cotton became an integral part of Georgia’s history post American Revolution 1775 to 1783. Sea Island cotton was brought from the West Indies in to coastal areas about 1785. In 1801 Georgia produced 21,000 bales on 65,000 acres. Two things moved Georgia away from cotton production systems on the coastal regions. Forced removal of the Creek and Cherokee Indians allowed the settlers to move inland. Cotton production was labor intensive and all done by hand. It was planted with horses or mules, was chopped and picked by hand. The other thing that brought change in cotton production was the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in Chatham County Georgia in 1793. There was finally a way to mechanically separate the seed from the fibers. With a 20 fold increase in cotton production up to about 1801 the need for labor became greater. Sharecroppers and slaves were vital to cotton production on the plantations of Georgia. Cotton became King in the antebellum years. 1914 was the start of WW I and 5.2 million acres in cotton production peaked in Georgia. Post WW I, 2.8 million bales were produced on 4.9 million acres. The boll weevil, a destructive insect, threatened from the western states like Texas and eventually despite quarantine reached Georgia. By 1920 losses of 50 to 75% were attributed to the boll weevil and every effort was made to find a way to stop the boll weevil. Cotton production drastically decreased. The New Deal post WW II brought the Agricultural Adjustment Act that radically reduced cotton acreage allowed in the states. In 1944, cotton was still the number one crop in Georgia, and the earlier economic losses suffered from a drop in cotton production were gradually being replaced by increased production of other crops such as peanuts By 1987, the boll weevil was eradicated. Tractors, cotton pickers, irrigation and mechanization allowed for cotton again to be produced in Georgia and Effingham County without manual labor. Worldwide desire for cotton fibers in domestic uses including clothing has driven exportation of cotton. In 2016, according to statistics from Ben Cantrell in Effingham County with the Georgia Extension Service, 1,193,967 cotton acres were planted and harvested in Georgia. That was up from 1,173,914 acres in 2015. Despite a hurricane in 2016 and hot and dry weather, 2.438,584 million bales were produced statewide as of December. Net bale weight is 480 pounds. Newer round bales weight does not have a specific standard but can be three times plus that of the standard bale. In Effingham County 5,856 acres were planted with a yield of 986 pounds per acre in 2016. The value was over 4.6 million dollars. Georgia is the second largest domestic cotton producing states as of 2016, just behind Texas. Cotton production looks good for dry and irrigated land in Effingham so far this year. Cotton was King in Georgia years ago and is again one of the top commodities produced in the state and Effingham County. Thanks for help from GA Extension Agent Ben Cantrell for assistance of this article. This was compiled by Susan Exley from Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos or historical information to share contact her at 912-754-6681 or email hesheraldexley@aol.com

This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos or historical information to share, contact her at (912) 754-6681 or email hesheraldexley@aol.com

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