During the 1800s, the main cash crop in Louisiana was cotton. In April 1829, settlers began moving into Bienville Parish to take advantage of the cheap land that the federal government offered for sale. April is important because it is the beginning of the cotton growing season. For our temperatures, the best time to plant cotton is mid-April to mid-May.
As a historian, I’ve been researching the cotton plantations in Bienville Parish. I have researched cotton through newspapers, books, diaries, and photographs, but have never had any hands-on experience with the fibrous crop. I decided that to gain more of an understanding of what this aspect of life was like in the 1800s, I needed to grow cotton on a very small scale in my home garden. Based on the historical record, the most prominent strain of cotton grown in North Louisiana was Petit Gulf. As of yet, I have not found any source for this strain and am not sure it is used anymore.
One of the first things I learned is that “the planting of non-commercial or ornamental cotton is PROHIBITED in Louisiana unless a written waiver is obtained from the Commissioner of Agriculture & Forestry.” The reasoning behind the prohibition without permission is for the control of Boll Weevils. Left unchecked, a boll weevil infestation can quickly destroy millions of dollars worth of commercial cotton in the state. According to a report by the Department of Agriculture & Forestry published in 2017, the boll weevil has been eradicated in the state of Louisiana due to regulations enacted by the Department of Agriculture & Forestry.
I spoke with someone from the Department of Agriculture & Forestry and explained that I wanted to grow the cotton as part of a historical research program. He was enthusiastic about the project and forwarded me the required form to request permission (attached below). On February 13, I completed the form and emailed it as per the instructions. If accepted, I’ll be the only cotton grower in the parish. Now, I must wait patiently while crossing my fingers. As I think about growing cotton and all of its difficulties, a Brook Benton song keeps coming to mind…