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Mississippi Delta cotton harvest: tour behind the scenes

Buying cotton today and want to know where it comes from?

A plant! Most American cotton is grown on family farms.

Scroll to virtually tour* an American cotton harvest in action...

*If you'd like a group or personalized farm tour, contact Shared Experiences directly. They're not publicly available (yet), but depending on the weather/season/mood (just kidding), some of the local farmers we work with are proud to share their work with you.

American cotton is 'de-foliated' before harvest, so most leaves fall off and only the white fluffy cotton is left, making it easier to pick...

THIS is cotton in bloom!

The flower becomes a cotton "boll" which then opens into the white fluffy cotton which you recognize as a "ball."

Cotton is Soft | Cotton is Sharp.

Both are true.

People still alive who remember hand-picking cotton will tell you that it cuts your cuticles; look closely and you can see why.

Mississippi bluesmen still sing about it.

It's no coincidence the Delta was a birthplace of blues, civil rights, AND automated agriculture.

International Harvester's first fully mechanized cotton crop was harvested right here at Hopson in 1944, eliminating the need to pick by hand.

Here's what a cotton picker looks like today:

These "ag-tech" machines are some of the most technologically advanced in the world and cost $1m apiece. They're part of a fleet that's GPS-programmed to automatically plant, fertilize, and harvest in perfectly spaced rows.

For scale: that's L.C. waving hello!

...And ~5,000lbs of harvest dropping.

As the yellow 'snouts' guide plants into each 'head' and gobble bolls off their stalks and into the machine, it's simultaneously compressing them in its belly.

When it's full, the picker automatically wraps then dumps each roll out its backside. Yep, that's one giant cotton poop.

Cotton matures in September, so farmers only have a few weeks to harvest thousands of acres before rain degrades the quality and makes it too muddy for 33-ton machines to work the fields.

To get it done in time, the biggest farms run several at once:


As pickers pick, tractors spike & move 'modules' (not bales!) to the edge of fields for trucks to pick up.

Each 'module' (wrapped on farm) contains ~13-15 'bales' (standard units, after ginning).

Each could make more than 2,400 jeans or 14,400 t-shirts.

Farmers work loooong hours during harvest to get the crop in before rains come.

These days the Big Boss Man brings dinner!

And boy are they happy when it's done.

Here's Bubba watching his pickers' last passes of the year (and yes, genuine American cotton caught in that classic #JohnDeere hat) (his sales rep says he can have all the new hats he wants when he buys a new picker- but sometimes ya just can't buy the classics).

Cotton is then trucked to a nearby gin.

There, the fibers are separated from seeds inside, and they're sent to be processed into the threads of cotton that make the clothes you buy today!

THANKS to the farmers who put food on our tables -- and clothes on our backs.

All content shot in Coahoma County, Mississippi | Harvest 2021

(c) Shared Experiences USA

Sources: USDA, National Cotton Council of America, John Deere, and Delta farmers. THANKS to Bowen, Mattson, John, Joe, Bubba, Terry, Jason, Brandon, Andrew, Travis, LC & their crews for sharing their farms and expertise with us!


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