Bill Starr: Loving that Gossypium hirsutum

Published 2:55 pm Monday, October 23, 2017

I don’t know what is about this time of year, but it seems to me that once we get to October, time just seems to fly by. I guess there is so much going on this time of year: harvest, football, and fairs.
Before you know it, it will be Thanksgiving, and what a great time to reflect on things that we are thankful for. I am thankful every day that my work revolves around agriculture. Agriculture is Georgia’s largest and oldest industry. Sumter County agriculture is not only important to the local folks but to folks in the state of Georgia as well. I’m especially thankful that Sumter County grows a lot of Gossypium hirsutum.
Now before anyone starts getting concerned about these Gossypium plants being grown here, let’s take a look at what this plant truly is. First of all Gossypium hirsutum is a tropical plant that is grown on a lot of acres in Georgia as well as many other states in the United States. The plant is a shrub native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including the Americas, Africa, and India. The greatest diversity of species of this plant is found in Mexico, followed by Australia and Africa. Gossypium was independently domesticated in the Old and New Worlds. This plant has been cultivated and used to make fabrics for at least 7,000 years, and may have existed in Egypt as early as 12,000 B.C. … This plant has made its mark in history. Thomas Edison tried more than 1,000 different materials before deciding that charred fiber from this plant made the ideal filament for the very first light bulb. The Wright Brothers used fiber from this plant to cover the wings of their aircraft for the first powered flight in 1905.
I feel sure all of us are very familiar with this plant whether we realize it or not. Every day we come in contact with this plant and following are just a few examples of the products made from this particular plant. U.S. paper money is actually not paper at all but a blend of a product of Gossypium hirsutum and some other things to make our currency durable enough for circulation. Even America’s favorite pastime has long associations with this plant; let’s just say there would be no homeruns hit without this plant. One hundred fifty yards of fiber made from this plant are in every baseball.
Now let’s talk about Gossypium hirsutum’s importance to the state of Georgia. In 2015,  Gossypium retained its position as one of the leading cash row crops in Georgia with production of 2.25 million bales of lint at an estimated market value of $1.2 billion. The seed yield was 756 tons, valued at approximately $161.3 million. The market value of lint and seed was $1.3 billion! In 2011, Georgia ranked second nationally in Gossypium hirsutum acreage with 1.6 million planted, and second in production with an average yield of 791 pounds of fiber per acre.
I think you might be figuring out by now exactly what this Gossypium hirsutum plant must be. If not, let me give you a few more hints: How about “The look, the feel of Gossypium hirsutum the fabric of our lives”? If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am talking about cotton. Cotton is a part of our daily lives from the time we dry our faces on a soft cotton towel in the morning until we slide between fresh cotton sheets at night. It has hundreds of uses, from blue jeans to shoe strings. Clothing and household items are the largest uses, but industrial products account for many thousands of bales. The cottonseed is crushed in order to separate its three products: oil, meal and hulls. Cottonseed oil is used primarily for shortening, cooking oil and salad dressing. The meal and hulls that remain are used either separately or in combination as livestock, poultry and fish feed, and as fertilizer. The stalks and leaves of the cotton plant are plowed under to enrich the soil. Some cottonseed also is used as high-protein concentrate in baked goods and other food products. Cotton is important to Sumter County and to our state and I sure am thankful for cotton because of its comfort in clothes, towels and sheets. Cotton truly is the fabric of our lives.

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension coordinator/ANR agent, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.