In a front page editorial in January 1950, Bill McNamee, not long the sole owner of Delta Farm Press, promised readers “a new era of farm journalism.”
While his vision for the publication was one of growth, as agriculture was transitioning from a labor-intensive system to one increasingly mechanized, he couldn’t have remotely dreamed all the changes that would occur from then until today.
Here’s a look back at some of the headlines and the evolution in products and machinery that have occurred in the past 68 years since that 1950 editorial.
Page 1 headline: “Increased mechanization and diversification in the Delta.” A photo montage (not easy to accomplish in the days of ‘hot metal’ printing), shows a flame burner for weed control, a “first-in-the-Delta corn sheller,” an airplane spraying “the latest chemical in bug warfare,” a tractor equipped with butane carburetion, the “first-in-the-Delta milk pickup route,” and “the latest ammonia distributor for accurate dispensing.
“A new day has dawned for the Delta farmer,” the article said. “Diversification has been the keynote for Delta Farm Press for years … and all farmers who follow the plans being laid down by Extension will surely prosper in the future.”
Middling 15/16” cotton on the Memphis spot market was 30.60 cents.
Extension specialists contributing articles included Cecil Black, Sunflower County, Miss.; S.R. Morrison, commissioner of animal husbandry, Tate/Panola counties, Miss.; T. Y. Williford, Bolivar County, Miss.; and Bolivar County conservationist T.A. Hester.
Southern Bell Telephone Co. bragged in an ad that it had installed more than 46,000 telephones in Mississippi in 1949, including 13,300 in rural areas.
Sen. Richard Byrd, speaking at the Delta Council annual meeting, attended by 4,000, decried “the overpowering force of deficit spending, and its accompanying evil forcing the country to the verge of socialism.”
Page 1 headline: “Soybeans look best for excess acres during 1950 crop year — will serve as stepping stone to other crops.” Another headline: “Progress made in chemical weed control at Delta Branch Experiment Station.”
Ag chemical advertisements were for toxaphene, DDT, and Aldrin.
In keeping with the year of soybeans, an article reported “Mississippi’s first soybean oil mill opens at Belzoni,” and producers “are paid an average $1.90 per bushel at the mill.” Another article noted that in 1948 “Delta farmers harvested 1,463,750 bushels of soybeans from 79,000 aces.”
The Mid-South Farm and Gin Show was launched in 1952 by the Southern Cotton Ginners Association, with Bob Collins as show manager. The show continues today, having had a continuous record of growth in number of exhibits and numbers of attendees, with some 20,000 people attending the two-day event in 2018. Lee Todd succeeded Collins as SCGA executive vice president and show manager. After his retirement, Tim Price succeeded him and still serves in the post.
In October, spot cotton prices at Memphis averaged $11 per bale. William McGregory, 16-year-old 4-Her, won the state corn contest with 181 bushels on 1 acre.
A page 1 headline proclaimed, “Mechanical brain to assist Stoneville weather station,” and the article reported, “They will soon be using an electronic computer on one of nature’s most complex problems — the calculation of rain probability.”
A USDA report in 1960 showed land values the previous year up by 5 percent in Mississippi, 8 percent in Lousiana, 7 percent in Arkansas, 6 percent in Tennesee, and 8 percent in Missouri.
Later in the year, this headline: “All-out boll weevil research needed — eradication is possible.”
Extension writers contributing regularly to the publication included W.F. James, Caruthersville, Mo.; G.A. Vanderford, Greenville, Miss.; W.R. Thompson, Mississippi State University; Jim Goodman, Cleveland, Miss.; Max McDonald, Tallulah, La.; and Jack Riley, meteorologist at Stoneville.
An article was headlined: “Quality machine harvesting needed in Delta.” And a later article advised, “There are three alternatives for farmers caught in a squeeze: increase efficiency, get more off-farm income, or give up farming for a better-paying job in town.”
By this point, weekly issues had grown much fatter, with page after page of ads, dominated by agrichemicals, for which new ones seemed to appear monthly. Machinery was becoming more efficient, and there seemed to be a race between manufacturers to see who could produce the biggest, most powerful tractor.
A February 1970 headline heralded “First U.S. 4-row cotton picker unveiled,” the John Deere 9940.
Among agrichemicals offered in full-page or two-page spread advertisements were Treflan, Lasso, Cotoran, Furadan, Terraclor Super X, Planavin, Dyanap, Bidrin, Rogue, Isobac 20, Dacthal, Paraquat, Herban 62, Glytac, Mobilnix, Panther Juice, Lorox, Tenoran, Maloran, Butoxone SB, Butyrac 175, Karmex, Sevimol 4, TDM, Daconate, Ansar 529 HC, Azodrin 5, Hels-Mate, Guthion, and De-Fend. Other ads were for Chemagro cotton seed treated with Di-Syston, and Demosan, and Terra-Coat seed treatments.
Allis-Chalmers, Massey Ferguson, Steiger, and John Deere ads touted their huge tractors. A Deere ad advised producers they could “plant 8 rows at 6 mph cruising speed — that’s typical 122 hp 4520 performance.”
Page 1 article: “Kenneth Frick, ASCS administrator, in presenting a proposed cotton program to congressional committees, said, “U.S. cotton’s share of the total textile market is such that we either must play catch up or give up.”
Regular Extension/research writers included Gordon Barnes, Bobby Huey, M.C. McDaniel, James Gattis, Clay Moore, William Woodall, Woody Miley, and J.O. Hill, Arkansas; Joe Martin and Curtis Shearon, Tennessee; Truett Bufkin, John McCaskill, Kelton Anderson, Charles Baskin, O.A. Cleveland, Jr., Lavonne Lambert, Wayne Houston, and David Young, Mississippi; Murphy Veillon, James Tynes, Lewis Hill, and Tom Burch, Louisiana; and E.B. Nace, Joe Scott, U.U. Alexander, and Edward Kowalski, Missouri.
George Mullendore, Mississippi Extension cotton specialist’s weekly column had a wide following, increasing in popularity regionally and nationally. Duane Howell sent a “Report from the High Plains” of Texas, and Bill Schroeder wrote about taxes/estate planning.
An article quoting B.F. Smith, director of the Delta Council, noted “the new cotton program is the best that could be passed under the circumstances, and one farmers can live with.”
Agrichemical ads continued to be in the majority, and more ads for on-farm grain storage reflected the interest among farmers in having another component in their marketing strategy. Weed resistance had begun rearing its head, along with increased regulation of chemical use, and more rules from the EPA as to what farmers could and could not do.
Delta Farm Press began running color in ads and 4-color inserts on coated paper were in almost every issue. But still no color photos with articles.
In a congressional field hearing at Greenwood, Miss., Reps. David Bowen, Mississippi; Ed Jones, Tennessee; Tony Coelho and Bill Thomas, California; and Kent Hance, Texas, were told by farmers that problems of cotton production were “severe.” A headline noted that “Farmers laud success of Cotton Incorporated,” supported through a producer checkoff program.
More Extension/research contributors were writing for the publication, including Stanley Carter, Donald Adams, Richard Estes, James Green, J.O. Kumpe, and Charles Walden, Arkansas; Wayne Jordan, John McVey, and Bob Williams, Mississippi; and Aubrey Mire, Louisiana.
Two-page ad spreads continued for Treflan, most of the ‘70s products continued to be heavily advertised, and Roundup began its march to the most-used herbicide ever. Other products included Dyanap, Basalin, Zorial, Prowl, Lexone DF, Temik, and Nemacur.
“Irrigation systems increasingly important to Mid-South farmers,” a headline said, noting that producers were not only offsetting the impact of drought, but also obtaining significant yield increases. New tractor models, tillage tools, and cotton/grain harvesters were helping farmers achieve greater efficiency. Limited tillage and no-till began gaining ground, and equipment began to be developed for the practice. As genetic manipulation of crop plants became more workable, major advances were occurring in seeds offered to growers.
Weed specialists and researchers were increasingly worried that “new chemical weed controls are dwindling,” and “there is an almost total lack of development of new alternative herbicides.”
As economic hard times hit farm country, exacerbated by a grain embargo and high interest rates, farm auctions became commonplace and thousands of farmers across the nation were forced out of business.
“Test show genetically engineered cotton has promise,” a Delta Farm Press headline read, as seed companies continued to develop varieties with weed and insect resistance, plus other traits.
Dozens of products were advertised, including old reliable Treflan, the newer but almost universal herbicide, Roundup. Other materials included Lariat, Storm, Pix, Lorsban, Scepter, Dual, Arrosolo, Baythroid, Sencor, Bolero, Apron, Classic, Tilt, Temik, Curacon, Asana, Larvin, Guthion, Cobra, Karate, Command, Dimilin, Folex, Bolstar, Harvade, Prep, Facet, Touchdown, Buctril, Gaucho, Quadris, Capture, Leverage, Collego, Bidrin, Denim, Steward, Tracer, Centric, Finish — the list goes on and on.
Delta Farm Press began running color photos in almost every issue. Regulations at the federal level became more stringent on ag chemicals, and water, air pollution issues increasingly impacted agriculture.
Genetically engineered varieties were becoming more numerous, and hybrid rice varieties were gaining greater acceptance. An article on Bt cotton noted the “varieties sustain significantly less insect damage.” Dick Bell, Riceland Foods CEO, was quoted, “Biotech is too important not to fight for.”
Weed resistance increasingly reared its ugly head, as pigweed resistance to glyphosate became widespread. “Resistant Palmer amaranth a game changer in U.S. fields,” a headline read. Other weeds were showing resistance to other chemical classes.
All of which was noted in an article headlined, “Old tech returns to fields as farmers fight glyphosate-resistant weeds.”
As Congress continued to take money from farm programs, farmers began to move to crop insurance as a risk management tool.
Seed improvements were coming rapidly, as researchers added more traits.
And digital technology mushroomed as GPS, RTK, and other systems made auto-steer commonplace, and allowed variable rate seeding and “prescription” application of fertilizer and chemicals.
Products widely advertised included Ignite, Cruiser Max, Vault, Agrotain, Flexstar, Valor, Latigo, Broadhead, Kixor, Quilt, Envive, Belt, Sequence, Rebel, Grasp, Clincher, Grandstand, Diamond, Belay, Fanfare, Warrant.
In the face of weed resistance, the development of new systems using dicamba and 2,4-D offered the promise of better control, but drift issues resulted in considerable controversy and litigation, which continues to the present.
Unmanned aerial vehicles/drones began to offer farmers a new tool for monitoring crops and irrigation systems, and doing other tasks, and a bright future is predicted for the systems.
With a new farm bill in development and concerns about the federal budget the increasing national debt, and worries about a potential trade war with China and other overseas customers for U.S. ag products, farm organizations are kept busy with lobbying efforts in Washington.