When Ellington Massey decided to grow corn in 2007, he visited a number of grain bin facilities on various farms around the Mid-South before deciding on a five-bin storage system that can hold over 450,000 bushels. If Mother Nature lets him get his corn out early like he prefers, he can harvest it all with one combine.
In 2018, he also stored corn in three 300-foot grain bags on the ground beside the bins. “We loaded 60 trucks in one day last year,” says Massey who farms with his son Turner and daughter Lucy. “Our plan this year was to plant around 1,600 acres each of corn and cotton. We’ll also plant about 800 acres of soybeans.”
Massey Planting Company drivers had delivered 319 loads of corn to the elevator the day before this interview on March 26. “We contracted corn to Farmer’s Grain Terminal in Rosedale, Miss., and started delivering it there, but they cut us off because the water had risen so high on the Mississippi River they couldn’t load barges,” says Massey. “We had to start making a 90-mile trip to their elevator in Greenville, Miss.”
Bound for Farming
Massey knew he wanted to farm even before heading to Mississippi State University in the late 1950s. He majored in agricultural engineering, but he managed to bypass some of the required courses he thought were irrelevant to the agricultural career for which he was preparing. “I looked through the curriculum my freshman year and it included courses in poultry, dairy, and hog production,” says Massey. “I felt like those courses were not, let’s say, in my best interest.”
Massey met with Dean Wallace Colvard, told him he was from the Mississippi Delta, wanted to farm after graduating, and thought he didn’t need to take those courses. After Colvard informed young Massey the coursework was mandatory, they talked and Colvard eventually told Massey to go see the president of the university — Benjamin F. Hilbun.
Instead of setting up a meeting through Hilbun’s secretary, Massey walked right up to Hilbun’s residence and knocked on the door. “Mrs. Hilbun answered the door and was as nice as she could be. She even fixed me a Coke,” says Massey. “After I explained to President Hilbun what I wanted to do, he actually drafted a letter that approved me to take accounting, finance, and banking courses. It worked out really well!”
Massey received his diploma in 1961 and has been farming the varied soils around Coahoma County ever since. Most of the acreage he works is irrigated. “Of the 4,000 acres we work, about 3,000 acres of it is irrigated via a few pivots and a lot of polypipe.
As we passed one of his fields, a pivot stood motionless across the turnrow. “Believe it or not, this ole heavy buckshot field is our highest yielding for corn,” says Massey. “I always plant on a 5- to 7-inch row and we keep a good eye on how much water we put on it.”
Delta Oil Mill has a massive facility east of Massey’s farm shop. If he finds spots in his fields that look like they need a little organic matter, he loads up his spin spreader with gin trash he gets from the oil mill. “They have 31 gin stands they use to re-gin cottonseed before processing begins,” says Massey. “We set our spreader up to put out around a ton per-acre.”
Equipment and Water
Despite his awareness of the depleted aquifer across the Delta region, Massey has never grown rice and his irrigation wells hit water around the 100 feet. “Back when Five County Farmers was in business, a Mr. Fulton oversaw the digging of my first well — around 1965,” says Massey. “He asked me if I had a nut in my truck. He tied it to the end of a measuring tape, dropped it down into the well and hit water at 19 feet.”
Twenty years later some of the bearings had gone out and the shaft had to be pulled. “I tied a nut to a measuring tape and did the same thing Mr. Fulton did 20 years ago,” says Massey. “I hit water at 19 feet.”
Massey’s crew has been busy with burndown. They prefer using their ground rig, but if it’s too wet for the highboy, they make a phone call to Tunica Air, Inc., which also does some insecticide work for them during the season.
One piece of unique equipment that has been invaluable for Massey is called a Levee Leaper. It is used for spot-spraying ryegrass and any other patches of weeds that might have been missed by the highboy or the airplane. “When the ground is too soft for our highboy, we can run it across the ground and with its 50-foot boom we can cover a lot of ground,” says Massey. “It has a variable rate and guidance system on it, with a 200-gallon tank, and a 5-horsepower Honda engine that pulls the pumps. We’ve had it for 10 years. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Then There Are the Cats
Years ago, Massey told Lucy they needed some cats around the farm buildings. With so much grain being produced on the operation, the Masseys could see the rodent population was going to get out of control. “When we’re cutting corn, you can see rodents running out of the field ahead of the combine — many of them toward the farm shop,” says Massey. “Those pests can cost us a lot of downtime because they chew through the electrical wires on our equipment.”
Lucy looked on Craig’s List and found Tennessee Barn Cats, a feral cat placement program under Kitty City, Inc. “We have lived on this farm for three generations, and we’d much rather have the organic pest control cats give us than have to buy and put out expensive poison that could be hazardous to other animals,” says Lucy Massey.
“It costs a good bit of money to get the equipment dealer to come out and diagnose an electrical short or sensor that had a connecting wire chewed through by a mouse or rat. "We keep a couple of feeders in buildings and the cats make themselves at home living on and around the equipment. They are on patrol 24/7, so we rarely see a rodent.”
Like most farmers across the Delta who farm corn, Massey’s planters were running wide open the first week in April trying to get all their corn in the ground before the planting deadline. “We’re not sure we can get all the corn in with all the wet weather we’ve had — we may have to go with more cotton. We have to stay flexible,” says Massey.
Maintaining an attitude of flexibility has held Ellington Massey in good stead through his years at Mississippi State University and through his decades of growing row crops in the Mississippi Delta.