Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Cotton 'n' Corn

Since I'm a city boy, I don't know my bushels from my pecks, so I was interested to learn a few tidbits about corn and cotton.

Starting with cotton, it turns out that the quality of the soil made a huge difference in output. In prewar Georgia, after the first few years of cultivation "[t]he sandy soils of the piney uplands . . . yielded . . . only 100 pounds of lint cotton. . .. Consequently, it took plain folk four acres to produce a single 400-pound bale of ginned cotton." This was "at least twice as much land as needed" in the rich soil of the river plain. "Moreover, to get the highest cotton yield for their labor, and therefore the highest cash return," plain folk who chose to grow cotton -- and many grew a bale or two -- had to use "their most fertile" land for the crop.

Turning to corn, do you know what a bushel is? Shucks, I don't neither, but here's a hint. "On average, each Southerner consumed about 13 bushels of corn per year, corn bread, grits, hoecake, and hominy being common table fare." How does that figure compare to production? "Without fertilizer most farmers expected to raise about 10 bushels per acre on piney woods land, but the use of home fertilizers such as cow manure doubled the yield in a very good year." Again, the soil made a huge difference. "Farmers fortunate enough to own bottomland could make up to 50 bushels [of corn] per acre."

All quotes are from Mark Wetherington's marvelous Plain Folk's Fight: The Civil War & Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 2005).

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