By the end of World War II, there were a total of six gins operating in and around Bolton, Miss. If they each pressed 2,000 bales a year, it was a good season. A few years before Ted Kendall III (affectionately known as “Big Ted”) returned to Bolton after earning his degree from Mississippi State University in 1959, two gins remained in the unincorporated town of Raymond, Miss., and one remained in Bolton.
That put a great deal of ginning pressure on Big Ted’s great uncle, J. L. Gaddis Jr., who built and operated the family-owned cotton gin in Bolton, Miss., just a stone’s throw from where Gaddis & McLaurin Hardware Store still operates today. “Uncle J. L. paid $150,000 for that gin. It had five old 90 gin stands,” remembers Kendall. “The hardware store was a private partnership before it was incorporated, we think, sometime in the 1930s. There’s nobody left to confirm or dispute that claim though!”
Kendall planted the first crop on the family farm his first year back from college with an 8N Ford tractor and a two-row Birch planter. “There were two kinds of sharecroppers during that time. One operated in a 50/50 partnership where the sharecroppers didn’t put anything into the crop but their labor,” explains Kendall. “The other was known as a renter, who was a one-fourth partner and usually owned a mule used for field work. That kind of farming became unprofitable and just went the way of the buggy whip.”
Big Ted’s son, Ted Kendall IV, grew up working on the farm while his cousin, Kendall Garraway, spent more of his earlier years in Jackson, Miss. The cousins established a “family divided” after coming home from college — with Ted Kendall IV having earned his degree from Mississippi State University, and Kendall Garraway bringing home his degree from the University of Mississippi. Both then began carving out careers in the family businesses, and today Ted Kendall IV watches over the multi-thousand head cattle operation and 3,000 acres of row crops, while Garraway oversees a 6,000-acre cotton, soybean, and corn row crop business.
“Kendall had planned to be an attorney but started farming part-time with us and decided he’d rather farm than practice law,” says Big Ted. “For an Ole Miss man, he’s become a pretty good farmer,” he says with a spirited but affectionate jab toward his nephew.
The Gaddis Farm Today
The Gaddis Farms and Gaddis/McLaurin multi-faceted and multi-enterprise operations were also incorporated in the 1930s, and today include over 5,000 acres of pine trees and 6,500 acres of hardwood timber. Seventy-five percent of The Gaddis Farms is leased for hunting. They also retain ownership of approximately 500 to 1,000 head of cattle spread out across Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska.
“We have long believed in diversification and that has helped us avoid the economic peaks, and more importantly, the seemingly more frequent economic valleys, that so often come with farming and ranching,” says Kendall IV. “Kendall and I work very closely every day, and many parts of the operation are not so rigidly structured that we can’t both work on problems when they arise if we need to do so — and they often do!”
The operation maintains 12 employees, excluding those at Gaddis & McLaurin Cotton Gin — which is managed by Big Ted. The gin operates two 158 Lummus gin stands that gin 30 bales an hour. “We haul cotton from as far away as Hattiesburg, Miss., because we’re the only gin in Mississippi south of I-20,” explains Big Ted “Our capacity was fine when we were hauling everyone’s cotton, but now many of our clients are hauling it to us themselves, and that causes a few bottlenecks. It’s also difficult because we can’t find enough qualified labor to run two gin crews.”
He hopes to press 32,000 bales by the end of the 2018 ginning season.
Their cotton crop looked great until a seven-day stretch of rain that came right after defoliation. “It took some crop from us,” murmured Garraway, shaking his head.
The gin had problems because so much of this year’s crop arrived at the gin saturated. At one point they even had to fire up the gin’s old suck pipe to get the wet cotton into the ginning system.
Ted Kendall IV and Garraway rotate corn with cotton religiously. They try to produce 3,000 acres of soybeans annually, but with so many fields lined with trees that provide a natural habitat for deer, it has been difficult to harvest the soybean yields they anticipated having.
“They eat us alive,” says Garraway. “We’ve got some land on the Big Black River where we don’t even try to grow soybeans any longer. The deer just ran us out, and after the big flood occurred on the Yazoo River, we started seeing more and more transient wild hogs on that land.”
Their corn crop was excellent this year, but all agree, it was an expensive one to produce. The DeKalb and Dyna-Gro hybrids they chose provided pest and disease packages applicable to their needs, but like cotton seed, corn hybrid prices have also escalated.
“We had some problems with bollworms despite planting Bollgard II,” says Kendall IV. “We’re paying a lot for that technology, and it’s just not working any longer, and we’re starting to have some concerns with chemistries we use. Deltapine 1646 yields like crazy, and we look forward to the three-protein varieties next year, but I’d like to see some yield data on them.”
Herbicide drift has presented no headaches to date. Pigweed has started appearing after skirting the area for several years. “It’s gotten worse, but we sure don’t have the population levels like they do in the Delta,” Garraway says with a sigh of relief. “We’ve used some Liberty but not dicamba, although we’re heading in that direction. It also helps that we have good farming neighbors!”
The cousins have always tried to match the land they have to what it is best suited. They know some row-crop ground they farm washes out badly after a rain or is hilly and not ideal for moving heavy equipment around. They purchased a farm in 1993 that was more suited for row crops, and they have been trading some of that “less than ideal” land for land more suited for corn, cotton, or soybeans.
Their decisions are never made hastily. “We’ve put some land in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and even planted some timber in places where there might not have been a government incentive to do so,” explains Garraway. “After discussing it with our stakeholders, we all decided it was the best thing to do.”
Future of Gaddis Farms
Hinds County, Miss., does not have many farms left in operation. Those farmers who couldn’t expand their operations just stopped farming. “Over the years, much of the rural population migrated down the road to Jackson,” says Garraway.
Today, many of those Jackson residents seem to also want a house in the country with a few acres of land. “They’re coming back to the country in droves, so there’s a lot more traffic on our back roads,” adds Garraway.
While residents in the cities seem to be coming back to the country, the next generation of the Garraway and Kendall families are making their marks on the world away from the farm. “My daughter, Anna Kendall Thames, works for Cindy Hyde-Smith and is married to Hyde-Smith’s nephew, Jake Thames. My son, Whit, is 24-years old and in his third year of law school at Mississippi College,” explains Kendall IV. “He’s loves living in the country and works on the farm whenever he can.”
Garraway has three children. One daughter, Kendall Marie, works for the National Rifle Association in Washington, D.C. His second daughter, Caroline, is in her second year of medical school at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, while his son, John, is currently in the 10th grade. “What will happen to our farm when Ted and I retire is something we’re starting to deal with right now,” explains Garraway. “We may need to deal with it more aggressively!”
Between Snake Creek Planting Co., Live Oak Planting Co., Halifax Hunting Club, the cotton gin and the hardware store, there are plenty of responsibilities to be distributed. “Right now, we’re just trying to get our cotton ginned if our ginner would do his job,” says Ted Kendall IV, sending a wry smile toward his father, Big Ted, who seems unfazed by the comment as he slowly walks out of the office, fires up his truck, and heads back toward the gin.