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South Texas Farming--More

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  • Susan Rektorik Henley
    As I wrote in the first message of this series, the last great droughts in this area occurred in the 1950 s. As I was born in 1958, I have no memories of them.
    Message 1 of 4 , May 29, 2002
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      As I wrote in the first message of this series, the last great droughts in this area occurred in the 1950's. As I was born in 1958, I have no memories of them.  My memories are of fields of tall cotton with red-purple and white blooms and large dark green leaves. As a child, I could disappear into the forest created by the tall cotton. It was a wonderful refuge during the scorching heat of the summer days. My cousins, sister, and I built many a fort or hide-out in those fields.  And many evenings I would just run through the milo fields jumping each row. One never knew what you could find out there...a rabbit, a nest of a sandpiper (the parent always fakes a broken wing when you get near), or even a arrow head or spear point. And then there were the Common Night Hawks. During mating season, the territorial males will dive bomb you when you enter their space. There is a great whirring sound as they swoop from a high to within a few feet of your head! 
       
      Last year was a serious drought year...though not as severe as this one.  Six inches of rain in the late fall gave us the deep moisture for planting. We had a few showers during the Spring but the Cinco de Mayo rains were light. The milo crop was already maturing when for several days a strong wind blew from the South East. Vast areas of plants in the milo fields collapsed before the winds--this is called lodging. And, once the milo is down, it can not be harvested by a machine called a Combine--the normal method of harvesting. Much of it was baled for animal feed.
       
      Milo is crop kin to corn. It has been hybridized so much now that  it no longer resembles its ancestor crop which is native to Africa. Milo is planted in South Texas as a cash crop because it can generally handle the heat and rain-fall patterns. Although humans consume milo in many parts of the world, it is used primarily for animal feed in the United States.  A milo plant resembles a corn plant only the leaves are more narrow and the plant is compact and rarely is over a couple of feet tall. When the plants "boot" a seed head immerges from the top of the growing plant.  The head is green at first and pollen hangs from many points. When the plant is pollinated, clusters of seeds develop on short stems. There are many, many clusters which make up a large seed head. As the seeds mature, they dry out and turn a rich orange-brown color.  Production of seed head is the only goal of the milo plant. Each plant puts all its energy and moisture into seed production.  When the plant is drought stressed, the lack of moisture causes the stalk to weaken and the leaves to burn. This is what happened last year in South Texas. When the high wings (35 mph sustained with gusts to near 50) hit, the milo lacked the stalk stamina to stand. From the outer edges of the fields row after row collapsed inwards (like dominos).  After the wind storm, I drove the area and was in tears for my neighbors. I wound up at the Church were I had a Mass said "For the Intentions of the Farmers."
       
      I have to relate a story about my cousin, Michael, who now tenant farms the original "Rektorik Brothers" farm and many other acres. After the wind storm of last year, he and one of his farmer running-buddies were trying to estimate the acreage damaged by the wind storm. The soil is slightly more sandy (and dries out more quickly) near Michael's house so there was more damage there.  Michael's buddy suggested that they climb up on the house roof to get a better view of the fallen milo.  As the story goes, the friend then said,  "No, we better not get up the roof. After you see the damage...you might jump!"
       
      Will the milo lodge again this year? Some of it already has. Fortunately, we have not yet had a wind storm. Also, since we have had no rain, the seed heads are very light and not as likely to fall over.
       
      Cotton farming has changed much since we hand picked it...even since the first mechanical spindle pickers were brought in. A machine called a "stripper" in now usually the machine of choice for harvesting dry-land, short staple cotton. As the name implies, everything is taken but the stalks. The cotton is not clean as is hand-picked or even spindle-picked cotton. And, there are no more cotton trailers. Great Compactors are brought into the fields and huge "modules" are formed and dropped in the field until eighteen-wheel trucks with tilting flat beds come and take them to the gin yards.  Diving into the fragrant, sun-warmed, spindled-picked cotton is a memory that I have but that my children do not. Not even once have they flung themselves down flat and watched the blue sky above as the trailer was pulled by the old GMC pick-up to the gin!
       
      Other big changes in cotton farming? The farmers voted in the Boll Weevil Eradication Program a few years ago. Districts were established in which the cotton crops were monitored for the presence of boll weevils (in all life stages.) Insecticide spraying was undertaken by decision of the Program rather than each farmer. Fees are assessed against each farmer for running the Program and the cost of spraying.  Is the program working?  That is debatable.
       
      The first year that the program was implemented in the Rio Grande Valley, the cotton crop was devastated. The insecticides sprayed killed the beneficial insects and the boll weevil pests simply crossed over the Mexican border to the unprotected Texas fields and wiped out the crops.  The Valley farmers voted out of the program. Here in Nueces County, they maintain that there is a decline in the boll weevil population.
       
      This morning as I walked back from the goat pens, I heard the sputter and pop of a poorly-tuned gas engine. I looked around and saw a white pick-up truck making its way down the end of a near-by cotton field. A white cloud drifted from behind the truck--pesticide.
       
      The Boll Weevil Eradication Program folks are supposed to call near-by folks the day before they spray so we can be either gone or inside an air-conditioned house. The manager who makes the calls was ill. I did not get the advance call.  I try not to "kill the messenger;" however, I still get testy when the field agent is trying to explain what happened AFTER my daughter has had her lungs filled with chemicals. Her eyes were tearing, her nose was running, her face was flushed, and I was angry.  My expression would have showed it except pesticide exposure causes my face to go numb (sad smile!)  Then the "crop duster" came. A "crop duster "is a small prop driven airplane used for the aerial application of pesticides. The pesticide is carried in a light oil mixture which is sprayed from jets along the wings of the plan.  Even when the wind is not strong, there is always"drift" of the chemicals.
       
      What are they spraying? "Butanedioic acid, [dimethoxyphospinothioyl) thio]-, diethyester S -[1, 2- Bis (ethoxycarbonyl) ethyl] O, O-dimethyl phosphoro-dithioate."  "Malathion."  Why does Rachel Carson and "Silent Spring" resurface in my mind?
       
      But, let us set aside the environment and talk about the LISTED effects on mammals--humans.  "Fyfanon (the brand name of the Malathion" used here) rapidly enters the body on contact with all skin surfaces and eyes. Clothing contaminated must be removed immediately and all skin washed thoroughly....Signs and Symptoms of Exposure: Headache, nausea, vomiting, cramps, weakness, blurred vision, pin-point pupils, tightness in chest, laboured breathing, nervousness, sweating, watering of the eyes, drooling or frothing of mouth and nose, muscle spasms and coma."  (Yep, they just slip that "coma" in last!"
       
      The Program has gotten more sensitive to the people near the sprayed fields over the years. A few years ago, I was caught outside in a strong drift from a sprayed field. I couldn't breath, I was doubled over, and vomiting. I wasn't sure I could make it to the house.  Last year, when they started to spray an up-wind field, I got my kids in the car and we drove to my Dad's air-conditioned house. Only a few moments after we were in the house, a lady from the Program drove up and asked if we were alright. (Of course I had to go back outside and into the blow-by to talk to her...but, my kids were inside at least.
       
      But, let me get back to another change in cotton farming...okra leaf cotton. Traditionally, cotton had large flat leaves. I recall those leaves well for they created that canopy that I played under all those years ago.  But, the large, flat leaves not only blocked chemicals sprayed on but also "umbrella-ed" the pest insects underneath them.  The leaves of Okra-leaf cotton are deeply-palmed and allow the chemicals to fall further into the plant. In addition, Okra-leaf cotton is more drought tolerant.  Even the most traditional farmers down here are shifting to okra-leaf varieties. 
       
      I will try to post photos of milo, okra-leaf cotton, and  pheromone boll-weevil trap.
       
      Susan
    • sandra matthijetz
      Susan- my husband and I both grew up on small farms here in Central Texas- we grew up during the doughts of the 50 s but the only time I ever saw my Daddy cry
      Message 2 of 4 , May 29, 2002
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        Susan- my husband and I both grew up on small farms here in Central Texas-

        we grew up during the doughts of the 50's but the only time I ever saw my Daddy cry was about this time of the year when the corn was just in tassle & we had a hail storm that left us with only stripped stems to plow under, there wasn't even enough left to make fodder for the cattle & there was no such thing as crop insurance- of course, that same hail storm stripped the fruit trees & the gardens as well-

        At that time my grandparents were living with us  which meant there were 4 adults and 2 kids to feed but I can remember my Mom saying to my Dad "Remember when we first married and lived with
        your parents - there were 5 adults to feed and we'd make a meal on 1 squirrel with lots of gravey
        and potatoes, We'll be  OK"    & we were!

        Thanks for sharing,
        Sandra
         
         
         

        Susan Rektorik Henley wrote:

         As I wrote in the first message of this series, the last great droughts in this area occurred in the 1950's. As I was born in 1958, I have no memories of them.  My memories are of fields of tall cotton with red-purple and white blooms and large dark green leaves. As a child, I could disappear into the forest created by the tall cotton. It was a wonderful refuge during the scorching heat of the summer days. My cousins, sister, and I built many a fort or hide-out in those fields.  And many evenings I would just run through the milo fields jumping each row. One never knew what you could find out there...a rabbit, a nest of a sandpiper (the parent always fakes a broken wing when you get near), or even a arrow head or spear point. And then there were the Common Night Hawks. During mating season, the territorial males will dive bomb you when you enter their space. There is a great whirring sound as they swoop from a high to within a few feet of your head! Last year was a serious drought year...though not as severe as this one.  Six inches of rain in the late fall gave us the deep moisture for planting. We had a few showers during the Spring but the Cinco de Mayo rains were light. The milo crop was already maturing when for several days a strong wind blew from the South East. Vast areas of plants in the milo fields collapsed before the winds--this is called lodging. And, once the milo is down, it can not be harvested by a machine called a Combine--the normal method of harvesting. Much of it was baled for animal feed. Milo is crop kin to corn. It has been hybridized so much now that  it no longer resembles its ancestor crop which is native to Africa. Milo is planted in South Texas as a cash crop because it can generally handle the heat and rain-fall patterns. Although humans consume milo in many parts of the world, it is used primarily for animal feed in the United States.  A milo plant resembles a corn plant only the leaves are more narrow and the plant is compact and rarely is over a couple of feet tall. When the plants "boot" a seed head immerges from the top of the growing plant.  The head is green at first and pollen hangs from many points. When the plant is pollinated, clusters of seeds develop on short stems. There are many, many clusters which make up a large seed head. As the seeds mature, they dry out and turn a rich orange-brown color.  Production of seed head is the only goal of the milo plant. Each plant puts all its energy and moisture into seed production.  When the plant is drought stressed, the lack of moisture causes the stalk to weaken and the leaves to burn. This is what happened last year in South Texas. When the high wings (35 mph sustained with gusts to near 50) hit, the milo lacked the stalk stamina to stand. From the outer edges of the fields row after row collapsed inwards (like dominos).  After the wind storm, I drove the area and was in tears for my neighbors. I wound up at the Church were I had a Mass said "For the Intentions of the Farmers." I have to relate a story about my cousin, Michael, who now tenant farms the original "Rektorik Brothers" farm and many other acres. After the wind storm of last year, he and one of his farmer running-buddies were trying to estimate the acreage damaged by the wind storm. The soil is slightly more sandy (and dries out more quickly) near Michael's house so there was more damage there.  Michael's buddy suggested that they climb up on the house roof to get a better view of the fallen milo.  As the story goes, the friend then said,  "No, we better not get up the roof. After you see the damage...you might jump!" Will the milo lodge again this year? Some of it already has. Fortunately, we have not yet had a wind storm. Also, since we have had no rain, the seed heads are very light and not as likely to fall over. Cotton farming has changed much since we hand picked it...even since the first mechanical spindle pickers were brought in. A machine called a "stripper" in now usually the machine of choice for harvesting dry-land, short staple cotton. As the name implies, everything is taken but the stalks. The cotton is not clean as is hand-picked or even spindle-picked cotton. And, there are no more cotton trailers. Great Compactors are brought into the fields and huge "modules" are formed and dropped in the field until eighteen-wheel trucks with tilting flat beds come and take them to the gin yards.  Diving into the fragrant, sun-warmed, spindled-picked cotton is a memory that I have but that my children do not. Not even once have they flung themselves down flat and watched the blue sky above as the trailer was pulled by the old GMC pick-up to the gin! Other big changes in cotton farming? The farmers voted in the Boll Weevil Eradication Program a few years ago. Districts were established in which the cotton crops were monitored for the presence of boll weevils (in all life stages.) Insecticide spraying was undertaken by decision of the Program rather than each farmer. Fees are assessed against each farmer for running the Program and the cost of spraying.  Is the program working?  That is debatable. The first year that the program was implemented in the Rio Grande Valley, the cotton crop was devastated. The insecticides sprayed killed the beneficial insects and the boll weevil pests simply crossed over the Mexican border to the unprotected Texas fields and wiped out the crops.  The Valley farmers voted out of the program. Here in Nueces County, they maintain that there is a decline in the boll weevil population. This morning as I walked back from the goat pens, I heard the sputter and pop of a poorly-tuned gas engine. I looked around and saw a white pick-up truck making its way down the end of a near-by cotton field. A white cloud drifted from behind the truck--pesticide. The Boll Weevil Eradication Program folks are supposed to call near-by folks the day before they spray so we can be either gone or inside an air-conditioned house. The manager who makes the calls was ill. I did not get the advance call.  I try not to "kill the messenger;" however, I still get testy when the field agent is trying to explain what happened AFTER my daughter has had her lungs filled with chemicals. Her eyes were tearing, her nose was running, her face was flushed, and I was angry.  My expression would have showed it except pesticide exposure causes my face to go numb (sad smile!)  Then the "crop duster" came. A "crop duster "is a small prop driven airplane used for the aerial application of pesticides. The pesticide is carried in a light oil mixture which is sprayed from jets along the wings of the plan.  Even when the wind is not strong, there is always"drift" of the chemicals. What are they spraying? "Butanedioic acid, [dimethoxyphospinothioyl) thio]-, diethyester S -[1, 2- Bis (ethoxycarbonyl) ethyl] O, O-dimethyl phosphoro-dithioate."  "Malathion."  Why does Rachel Carson and "Silent Spring" resurface in my mind? But, let us set aside the environment and talk about the LISTED effects on mammals--humans.  "Fyfanon (the brand name of the Malathion" used here) rapidly enters the body on contact with all skin surfaces and eyes. Clothing contaminated must be removed immediately and all skin washed thoroughly....Signs and Symptoms of Exposure: Headache, nausea, vomiting, cramps, weakness, blurred vision, pin-point pupils, tightness in chest, laboured breathing, nervousness, sweating, watering of the eyes, drooling or frothing of mouth and nose, muscle spasms and coma."  (Yep, they just slip that "coma" in last!" The Program has gotten more sensitive to the people near the sprayed fields over the years. A few years ago, I was caught outside in a strong drift from a sprayed field. I couldn't breath, I was doubled over, and vomiting. I wasn't sure I could make it to the house.  Last year, when they started to spray an up-wind field, I got my kids in the car and we drove to my Dad's air-conditioned house. Only a few moments after we were in the house, a lady from the Program drove up and asked if we were alright. (Of course I had to go back outside and into the blow-by to talk to her...but, my kids were inside at least. But, let me get back to another change in cotton farming...okra leaf cotton. Traditionally, cotton had large flat leaves. I recall those leaves well for they created that canopy that I played under all those years ago.  But, the large, flat leaves not only blocked chemicals sprayed on but also "umbrella-ed" the pest insects underneath them.  The leaves of Okra-leaf cotton are deeply-palmed and allow the chemicals to fall further into the plant. In addition, Okra-leaf cotton is more drought tolerant.  Even the most traditional farmers down here are shifting to okra-leaf varieties. I will try to post photos of milo, okra-leaf cotton, and  pheromone boll-weevil trap. Susan

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      • Mary Holy
        Susan Yes , cotton farming has changed a lot in the past year. Those big compactors are called Module Builders. They sure beat having to toss that cotton
        Message 3 of 4 , Jun 2, 2002
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          Susan
          Yes , cotton farming has changed a lot in the past year.  Those big compactors are called Module Builders.  They sure beat having to toss that cotton back and pack it.  Plus saves a lot in labor and time.  Tire flats and other problems.
          As for the Boll Weevil Eradication program,  we are in one of those zones.  We voted for it.  The cotton farmers have lost millions in dollars from the boll weevil.  It only takes one puncture hole from a weevil to completely destroy, that single boll.  It doesn't take very many to do a lot of damage to a cotton crop.  We have had to spray a lot to try and control the boll weevil, before this program came into effect.  We would like to eradicate them completely.  There is some places that are completely eradicated in Texas and other states.  It would be less spraying and a big savings to the farmer. 
          Now if you are having problems with being notified, before they spray.  You send the BWE guys and the farmer that you are living next to,  a certified letter, stating that you would like to be notified 24 hours in advance.  You have to do this every year.  If they do not notify you, you have the right to notify the Texas Department of Agriculture.  I should now, because we have one neighbor that does this to us, but the letter has to be sent every year certified.  If we don't inform, she has a right to call the TDA on us.  Just some of the rules and regulations on spraying that ever farmer has to follow.
          We use both cotton strippers on dryland cotton and cotton pickers on irrigated cotton.
          My husband and his three brothers raise close to  3500 acres of cotton a year.  It is a long harvest.
          Mary (Soukup) Holy
          ----- Original Message -----
          Sent: Wednesday, May 29, 2002 1:28 PM
          Subject: [TexasCzechs] South Texas Farming--More

           
          Cotton farming has changed       Great Compactors      Other big changes in cotton farming? The farmers voted in the Boll Weevil Eradication Program a 
        • Susan Rektorik Henley
          ... Hi Mary, I was wondering if you would have any comments since I know that you farm (grin). As I said, things have really changed as far as the BWE folks
          Message 4 of 4 , Jun 2, 2002
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            >Now if you are having problems with being notified, before they spray.  You send the BWE guys and the farmer that you are living next to,  a certified letter, stating that you would like to be notified 24 hours in advance.  You have to do this every year.  If they do not notify you, you have the right to notify the Texas Department of Agriculture.<
             
            Hi Mary,
             
            I was wondering if you would have any comments since I know that you farm (grin).
             
            As I said, things have really changed as far as the BWE folks being public oriented.  Our problems are always when the supervisor is ill or something such as that.  After the fields had to be sprayed a second day in a row (due to rain), the crop duster pilot called me and introduced himself. He said that he would notify me 24-hours in advance of any aerial application up wind from our house. He also said he would forward my name and phone number to the other pilots/firms that spray in our area so that they could notify me when they are going to spray.
             
            And, yep, I know that the compactors are called. If things work out right, I'll try to capture the cotton harvest with the digital camera.  I might even write about "spontaneous combustion."
             
            Mary, it was good to hear from you. Are you all as dry as we are?
             
            Susan
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