Cotton: Bad Days on the Plantation

In the 14 states that make up the U.S. cotton belt, the unmistakable racket of mechanical cotton pickers filled the air last week. It was harvest time for the crop that reigned supreme in the South for a century. But even though modern machines have largely displaced the tattered ranks of Negro field hands, the resulting rise in productivity cannot conceal the fact that King Cotton is in deep trouble.

All the king's men—the 300,000 U.S. cotton farmers—will harvest little more than 11 million bales this year, compared with 18 million in 1955,...

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