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Observant readers catch editor’s error

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• Readers catch editor oversight • Forgot to consider turnout • Error regretted, readers thanked

I stand corrected!

In a recent commentary about picking cotton—actually about my mother picking cotton since I was of little use in the endeavor, being only four or five years old at the time—I was guilty of a math error.

Actually, I was guilty of an oversight error. I failed to note that the amount of cotton my mother picked, 200 pounds in one day, was not what the gin would have paid for. Turnout would have been considerably less than the pounds she picked and tied up in that cotton sheet at the end of the day.

I was reminded of that shortly after the latest issue of Southwest Farm Press began arriving in mailboxes. And it was suggested that I make a correction as soon as possible so that people would not think me some sort of buffoon. Well, some people probably think that anyway, but if we can prevent that sentiment from spreading, all the better.

One gentleman noted that we share the same last name and quipped that perhaps the name Smith could be sullied if I let the error stand. I am, therefore, admitting my error and correcting the mistake, with help from observant readers, one of whom offered further insight: “200 pounds of hand-picked cotton has to go through the process of being ginned and seed removed,” wrote Larry Helms.

He said turnout normally ranges from 25 percent to 35 percent. So 200 pounds of hand-picked cotton turns into approximately 60 pounds of marketable cotton for the farmer. At 33 cents a pound in 1953, that would be $19, less gin charges. 

“Best I remember we got 50 cents per 100 pounds for hand-pulling cotton in 1953,” Helms said. “I was 5 years old at the time. At 200 pounds a day, that would yield $1 to the picker.”

I checked with my mom recently and she recalls being paid about $2 a day for picking cotton, which, she said, was a pretty good fee at the time. She also said she probably never picked as much as 200 pounds in a day, but I like to give her the benefit of the doubt. She was quite certain that I did not pick 50 cents worth of cotton.

Mr. Helms said 2,000 pounds of hand- or machine-picked cotton turns into approximately a 500- pound marketable bale. “Before ginning charges, at 33 cents-a-pound, that comes to $165. In 2009, we sold our cotton for about 55 cents a pound, $275 per bale, which is only $110 more than it was in 1953. I wonder why I got into this business sometimes!” 

I am happy to report that the responses to my cotton-picking story, even the ones pointing out the error, were good humored and absent any malice. I also would like to remind readers that I do occasionally make mistakes and can always count on your sharp eyes to ferret them out. I always appreciate the feedback.

Thanks for reading.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

Tom Johnson (not verified)
on Mar 15, 2011

Just saw your commentary on picking cotton as a kid. I was a teenager in the early 50's and do remember picking cotton. My dad felt my brother and I needed something to do, so arranged with a neighbor to "rent" 2 acres of his adjoining field (about 10 or so rows). We had to weed it and pick it. I was older, so did most of the work. My dad had a grocery store/service station and served as paymaster for several of the local landowners. During the time of chopping and picking the cotton, we would often have 100 or so field hands in the store getting their daily pay and buying food. As I remember, the pay for picking was $2.00 a hundred pounds. Chopping was so much a day, but I don't remember how much. A good picker could pick a bale a day, and many of them competed to pick the most. The good ones would have 2 nine or twelve foot bags -- pull 1 while straddling one row and picking that plus the rows on either side. When the bag was full, his wife or one of his children would bring him the empty bag and take the full one to the scale. On the other hand, I never picked more than 100 pounds a day. Also, I don't remember ever getting any pay for our "rented" acres.

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