Vol. 7.4.1   Sept.   19,   2010
Cotton... fluffy, white and soft to the touch... but, first a thing of beauty.   Photo: Brax - VPC
Cotton Still Stands Tall in the Upper Valley.
Cotton blossoms are both things of beauty and great source of food for bees and other insects.
Photo: Brax - VPC

O nce the Upper Valley was full of diversity. Pecans, apples, peaches, grapes, tomatoes, chile, onion, lettuce and hay all grew in abundance. The secret to the success of all these crops was to find the right soil for each and to rotate the crops. Of course, everyone knows that the grapes were often grown to use in making wine and the fruit trees made for great jams, preserves and pies.

Cotton was introduced in the early part of the 20th century and because of the mechanization and the wide ranging market, it took off in a big way. But much of the cotton was planted over what had been other crops before. Cotton farmers figured that they would ride the market surge and make a profit while they could.
Row after row of young cotton plants start to get their growth spurt in the heat of June.
Photo: Brax - VPC

New farming techniques, mechanization and artificial fertilizers came into play and as such, the thought was that it would be easier to farm cotton with less risk than the other crops. One big reason was that the Upper Valley had late freezes and high winds during some years... early freezes and much rain during El NiŮo years. This placed the other crops at a disadvantage. Cotton was planted late and didnít really bear any adverse consequences from the late wind storms... the plants were too small yet.

Unfortunately, the investments that farmers made in fuel, fertilizers and machinery made it hard to take care of the land and make those payments at the same time. Something had to give.

In the end it was the soil that was the big loser. Farmers, trying to make up for their lack of diversity and big bills stopped the ancient practice of crop rotation. Soon the soil was nothing more than sun-baked clay... good enough only for weeds.

The Mesilla Valley is now becoming more diversified again. Now that oil prices are high; the luxury of cheap fuel, fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides is a thing of the past. Also, many pieces of land where cotton farming has ruined the soil make it difficult for a farmer to make a living on cotton. And, because he can't plant anything else because the soil won't yield a crop; the land is usually sold and developed. This means smaller tracts and in some cases... "gentlemen farmers" with no time to put into their land so they plant pecans or alfalfa.

Regardless of the fortunes of cotton in the future; the legacy of the rise and fall of cotton and the damage to the valley soils will be with us for a long time to come.

Prepared by UVB staff.

(Photos: Brax - Valley Publishing Company)

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Photos: Brax - VPC

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