By Jon Johnson
GILA VALLEY – Cotton is a staple in the Gila Valley and local growers tend to thousands of acres of various varieties every year.
With the nip of Fall in the air and bellies full of candy from Halloween, the time is upon the Gila Valley to reap the cotton harvest and begin the ginning saga.
While the rectangle cotton modules used to be the norm, nowadays the cylindrical-wrapped bales that come out of a John Deere 7760 utilized by the likes of VIP Farms now dot the landscape. The yellow and pick plastic-covered bales signify cotton has been collected and await transport to either Glenbar Gin in Pima or the Safford Valley Cotton Growers Co-op gin in Safford.
Large trucks haul the cotton down U.S. Highway 70 to either gin. The box trucks sway in the wind and every once in a while a bit of the white, fluffy stuff comes flying out the back.
With the operation full bore, those with allergies or who live near cotton fields should be wary about the increase of dust and particles in the air. Most operations are finished within a month, however, and the land is plowed over for replanting the following year.
For more than a decade, farmers have battled to keep their cotton modules from being vandalized. While it may be tempting to play on or mess with them, it can also be quite costly, to both the vandal and the farmer.
Larger cotton modules are worth between $8,000 to $12,000 apiece, and farmers face hefty fines if their modules are contaminated. Fines have been levied in excess of $30,000 for plastic contamination and each bale can be traced back to a particular farmer.
A worst-case scenario involves polluted cotton making it to a mill, where it could damage machinery or create damaged clothing. That would increase liability losses to the farmer.
All of the farms are on private property, and people found messing with modules will face charges of trespassing and criminal damage and could ultimately be responsible for restitution costs. If the vandals are children, those costs are then passed onto their parents.
So, as we head into the harvest season, appreciate the cotton, see its beauty and the various cotton modules that fill our landscape, but while one can look, please don’t touch. The cotton farmers spend all year to bring in their harvest, and seasonal employment in the gins ramps up this time of year, keeping the money floating around in the Gila Valley instead of going elsewhere.
And if you happen to see someone messing with a cotton module, report it. The action could save a lot of headache for both the farmer and the vandal.
The last couple years have seen hail storms and flooding damage local cotton crops. So far, it has been a most beneficial cotton picking season. Here’s to helping keep it that way.