“King Cotton” – For generations that slogan personified the Southeastern United States reliance on cotton as the predominant cash producing crop. Well, the “King is Dead; Long Live the King” – Bamboo.
Actually, before the coronation, a few things need to be put into place to ensure bamboo’s ascendancy to cotton’s throne. Rest assured, King Cotton was deposed years ago by inexpensive cotton imported from Africa and Asia. These cheap imports drove most cotton farmers out of the business. Even mega farms find it hard to compete with cotton brought into America from abroad.
Unless American cotton can be genetically engineered to plant and pick itself, the cotton industry in America faces a dismal future. That was why a consortium of botanists, growers and Southern politicians have begun to investigate the possibilities of replacing cotton with bamboo as the crop of the Southern Mississippi Delta states.
In many aspects it may seem that the bamboo industry in America is just in its infancy; however, the United States Department of Agriculture began introducing and researching bamboo as a new farm crop around 1919. American farmers and the general public remained unaware of bamboo’s potential as a profitable farm crop. In 1979 Richard Haubrich formed the American Bamboo Society in Southern California to begin promoting bamboo as a cash crop (1).
In the Northwestern United States bamboo was and is grown successfully. Bamboo growing began here as a hobby for people who had received the plant or purchased bamboo for decorative purposes. Folks took a chance and planted bamboo in yards, woods, wherever their fancies led them. With over thirteen hundreds species of bamboo, many types of bamboo did more then survive – they thrived.
Currently Washington State University, under Dr. Craig Cogger, is conducting research on various strains of bamboo. WSU studies include water usage and impact. These studies could have significant impact on bamboo’s viability (can it live) in the South. According to Gib Cooper of Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery, growers and would be growers have met and will continue to meet with Dr. Cogger and others to determine the viability of different bamboos in differing climates (2).
The Eco friendly aspect shouldn’t eclipse bamboo’s value as a product. From soup, to table, to homes, bamboo is ripe for the picking. Imagine the possibilities if the Delta region could become the manufacturing center for bamboo textiles such as bamboo clothes and bamboo sheets!
One type of bamboo that growers and scientists see as a candidate for the South is the moso bamboo. This plant can be used in buildings; it’s as strong as steel. Imagine how homes can be built to withstand severe weather. But Moso cuttings don’t survive at a profitable level. Jackie Heinricher, owner of Boo-Shoot garden, has devised a method to clone mature culms of Moso grass (3).
Heinricher envisions bamboo forests reviving the Delta’s agricultural economy, which once relied on cotton crops, but has generally fallen on hard times. Dr. Brian Baldwin, associate professor of plant and soil sciences at Mississippi State University, says mild, wet winters have helped bamboo species closely related to Moso do “exceedingly well here.” He considers the region viable for large-scale production.
“King Cotton is Dead”: “Long Live Bamboo.”1) Sawyers, Harry. Can American Farms Make Bamboo the Next Big Cash Crop? 2) Cooper, Gib. Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery 3) Popular Mechanics: June 29, 2009.