Full disclosure: this is a teaser. You will not get the complete story here. I don’t have enough space, limited to 470 words, to even get started on the opportunity I had last week to chat with seven “experienced” Delta farmers at the Farm Press office in Clarksdale, Miss.
To get the “rest of the story,” as the late Paul Harvey used to say, you’ll have to check the special 75th Anniversary issue of Delta Farm Press, to be published April 20.
We thought, in planning this milestone issue, that it would be interesting to have some farmers who have been around for a good part of the Delta Farm Press history to come in and chat about the changes they’ve seen in agriculture and the rural communities where they grew up.
It was. In a conversation that often wandered far afield of where we started, we covered a lot of acreage. Seven farmers talked about new chemistry, the change from mule-powered equipment to tractors that know where they’re going with no need for gee and haw commands, and the disappearance of a sharecrop system that was largely replaced by bigger and bigger equipment. They talked about the high cost of making a crop and the limited opportunities of making a profit with pricey inputs and contrary markets.
They talked about rural communities, small towns that rang bells for special occasions, deaths and to alert the fire department of a house ablaze; the railroads that shut down decades ago but at one time brought in coal to heat schools, businesses and government offices; schools and churches.
Crop protection chemicals came of age as these seven farmers were getting started. They switched from hiring truckloads of hoe hands to chop weeds to relying on herbicides to keep their fields clean. They used a long list of pesticides to fight boll weevils and other damaging insect pests.
It was two hours of reminiscing, interspersed with a lot of laughter and more than a tad of nostalgic memories of the mostly good old days. I heard tales of shootings, labor negotiations, and memories of people who worked hard “from dawn to dusk, six days a week,” as one farmer put it.
At the end of two hours, we took a break to appreciate some Delta barbecue and homemade pound cake. (Thank you, Ann King.)
So, this is a teaser. The “rest of the story” is coming and even that will fall short of doing justice to the experience, knowledge and perspective these seven farmers willingly shared with us. The most “experienced” of the bunch has farmed for 55 years, a span during which historic advances have occurred in agriculture.
One farmer compared the evolution of agriculture to air travel — from 1903’s first flight to a man on the moon in 1968. Seems pretty accurate.