Volume 4, Number 1 November 12, 2000
Cotton Picking Time
by Dr. Ridgely A. Muímin Muhammad
We are having a "cotton picking time" here at Muhammad Farms. We have been here since 1995 and this is the first season that we attempted cotton. It can cost from $200 to over $300 to plant and pick cotton before you get one dime. If you plant, say, 100 acres, you will need at least $20,000 in operating capital.
However, a cotton picker costs $170,000. Of course you can pick cotton by hand. It will take about 200 hand pickers to keep up with one mechanical cotton picker. You can either pay someone with a cotton picker $50 per acre to harvest your cotton or you must have at least 1000 acres of cotton to justify buying your own picker. Now, to grow 1000 acres of cotton you need at least $200,000 for seeds, chemicals, fertilizer and fuel to plant and cultivate your cotton. So we decided to experiment with a few hundred acres of cotton for this year.
It was a very dry year, but we were blessed to make an average of 528 pounds per acre off of our first 72 acre field. We had managed to keep our costs down to about $158 per acre and the market price when we sold our cotton was $0.607 per pound. Cotton prices reached a peak of $0.73 per pound in 1995, but have been falling steadily since.
However, even at $0.607 per pound we could have expected a respectable net return per acre of $162. But here is the kicker. We donít do our own ginning or grading, nobody does. Everybody, Black or white, takes their cotton to the white owned cotton gin. They take a sample of your cotton and send it to another laboratory somewhere, in our case, Macon. When our cotton samples came back, we were given a sale price of $0.469 per pound and after ginning expenses we received $0.41 per pound. So, now instead of clearing $162 per acre, we only cleared $58 per acre. Now considering that we could have rented that land out for at least $35 per acre, would you grow cotton or take the sure rental income? Remember that we had to risk $158 per acre to get back $58, whereas we could have risked zero and got back $35 per acre.
Being an agricultural economists, I do this type of analysis all the time and I know that it may seem foreign and boring to most of our readers. However, only by looking at the facts and the numbers can we get a good understanding of what the farmer faces, both Black and white, every day. Now add on top of this, "racism", and you can see why the $50,000 offered in the settlement of the class action lawsuit against the USDA is a joke.
In farming we say that "you must do every thing right, then you have a 50/50 chance at making a profit". Would you go to work everyday and wait a minimum of 90 days to have a 50 percent chance of getting paid? Worst still suppose you had to risk your own money in such a job and still had only a 50 percent chance of getting back more than you put in it. Now consider the fact that you are Black, all the people you depend upon for processing, grading and buying your product are white and you donít know how "white" folks are feeling this year. What would you do?
Oh, did I tell you that you need to clear at least $100 per acre to pay the mortgage on the farm?
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