RALEIGH, N.C. — Cotton is a $200 million business in North Carolina. Northampton, Beaufort, Lenoir and Halifax counties lead the state in cotton, but the race is on in those areas and others to get the cotton before Mother Nature does.
On Jerry Hamill's 1,500 acres, harvesting cotton has become a race against the elements.
"We are pushing as hard as we can on clear days to do as much as we can in a day's time," he said.
The mechanical cotton pickers can glean four rows at a time. A boll buggy meets the picker in the field and gets the cotton that has been collected. The cotton is then compacted into bails and taken to the market. However, wet weather is the cotton farmer's worst enemy.
"Well, you can't gin wet cotton. I'm not going to say you can't pick it, but the gins aren't very happy when you take them wet cotton," Hamill said. "You hurt yourself, hurt your grade, quality. You just don't want to offer wet cotton."
The best quality of cotton brings Hamill a meager 40 cents a pound. Ironically, 70 percent of Hamill's crop will be shipped to overseas markets, where cheaper labor has replaced most American textile jobs.
Hamill said cotton is an option for farmers who want to get out of the tobacco business.