You must watch Planet Money's T-shirt story

Planet Money's t-shirt. Photo: NPR Shop

Planet Money's t-shirt. Photo: NPR Shop

If you listen to NPR's Planet Money podcast, you know what they've been doing all year: following the production of a T-shirt – their T-shirt – from cotton to, well, T-shirt. Their reporting has spanned across continents, and is fascinating and, as with all Planet Money material, fun to listen to.

The big surprise is the Planet Money team has unveiled a jaw-dropping multimedia extravaganza in five chapters, with video, graphs, and superb storytelling.
Chapter one is, of course, about cotton. And it gives us a window into what modern agriculture really is today. We learn that American cotton is king of the world, and that it's a far-cry from slavery and plantations:

Genetically modified crops are controversial, but not among U.S. cotton farmers: Roughly 90 percent of U.S. cotton comes from genetically modified seeds that were designed in labs to produce more cotton and resist pests.

And when it’s time to harvest the cotton, U.S. farmers use, essentially, giant robots. Just last year, Bowen Flowers, the cotton farmer in the video, bought five John Deere 7760 pickers. They’re the size of tanks, but are finely tuned, self-driving machines that sense the cotton plant stalks and twist off just the cotton puffs. Flowers says he paid about $600,000 for each picker.

Like the seeds, the pickers get more productive every year as the technology improves. The newest John Deere picker needs just one guy to do what it took five guys to do a couple years ago. One driver can pick 100 acres of cotton a day — and he barely needs to touch the steering wheel.

For this and so many more reasons, you really have to watch/read/partake in some totally amazing journalism.


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