Cotton has been one of the most important crops in the United States for a long time, and at one point in time, cotton covered roughly 60% of the farmlands in the US. The cotton belt is a phrase that was coined to refer to an area in the US where cotton was grown on a large scale. The cotton belt can be divided into the old cotton belt and the new cotton belt. The old cotton belt covered several states such as Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina while the new cotton belt covers states such as Texas, California, and New Mexico.
The Old Cotton Belt
Before the cotton gin was invented, cotton growing in the US was mainly limited to areas in the coastal plains such as Georgia and South Carolina. The development of the cotton gin gave farmers the opportunity to grow short-staple cotton in the upper regions of the states increasing the area covered by the cotton belt. One of the areas that benefited from the development of the cotton gin was Natchez district. The farmers in the area were some of the most influential in the development of the cotton belt as they created new varieties of cotton that could be grown in other areas. The farmers in Natchez also pioneered the mechanization of cotton growing in the US. Mechanization encouraged farmers to grow cotton on a large scale, and they brought in slaves from Africa to work on the plantations. The abolition of slavery forced cotton farmers to grow the crop on a sharecropping system which later collapsed due to several factors such as fewer skilled workers and mechanization. The collapse of the sharecropping system reduced the size covered by the old cotton belt.
The New Cotton Belt
The decline of the old cotton belt led to the emergence of the new cotton belt in areas such as Texas and California. Most of the cotton farmers moved from the traditional cotton growing regions because the soils were depleted and there was a shortage of skilled labor. The areas in the new cotton belt were attractive to cotton farmers for several reasons such as they had well-drained fertile soils and few pests that could affect cotton production. The areas also had rivers such as the Sacramento and the Colorado that could be used for irrigation. Cotton farms in the new cotton belt have several common traits such as the use of machinery and irrigation. The farmers also rely on scientific methods in growing their crops to increase their production and yield. The scientific methods have led to the development of new breeds of cotton which are resistant to several pests and diseases. Several organizations were set up in the new cotton belt to market the cotton grown in the area.
Significance of the Cotton Belt
The cotton belt, particularly the old cotton belt, has been vital to the development of the southern region of the US. The cotton belt was critical to the development of the textile industry as it was a significant source of raw materials. The textile industry created numerous jobs for the American people and was a source of revenue for the government through the payment of taxes.