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Harris Barnes, ex-Farm Press editor, dies

Harris Barnes, nationally-known agricultural writer/photographer, and the founding editor of Southeast Farm Press, died Aug. 25. He was 87.

He was also the publisher of acclaimed photo books chronicling the history of cotton, Southern agriculture, and an agricultural retrospective.

“Harris had a remarkable career,” said Hembree Brandon, editorial director for Farm Press Publications. “From the days of mule-power and hand labor to modern, high tech agriculture — he was a part of it all, and documented it all in words and photos. He had one of the most extensive one-man collections of agricultural photos of anyone in the business.

“He never met a stranger, and his cheery smile and outgoing manner made friends wherever he went. He will be missed by all who knew him.”

A 1941 graduate of Mississippi State College (now University), the Clarksdale, Miss., native served in the Marine Corps in World War II, and then returned home to begin a career as a manager for large farming operations in the area.

“Harris had a lifelong love affair with farming, and cotton in particular,” Brandon said. “The hands-on knowledge he acquired as a farm manager served him well when he started his second career in ag journalism/photography.”

Barnes, who had no formal training in photography, recalled that he started taking photos to record the lives of his young children, and from there branched out into photos of crops and farming operations.

Barnes joined Farm Press in 1973, working briefly with Delta Farm Press, then becoming editor of Southeast Farm Press, which began publication in 1974.

“Harris traveled hundreds of thousands of miles across the Southeast states, often accompanied by his wife, Jayme, meeting farmers and recording their lives and farming operations,” Brandon said. “His own years of farming experience gave him a unique insight into those he wrote about and photographed.”

Barnes later left Farm Press and returned home to the Mississippi Delta, in 1980 beginning another phase of his life — freelance writer/photographer. Assignments from agricultural companies, advertising agencies, and ag publications kept him busy and took him all over the country.

“His photographs were widely published and sold,” Brandon said. “You'd see framed prints everywhere, from fancy corporate boardrooms to Shoney's restaurants.”

Earlier this year, Barnes donated his lifetime photo collection, more than 80 boxes, to the library at his alma mater. Mississippi State University Dean of Libraries Frances Coleman, said the photos will represent “a premier source for university students to learn about agriculture.”

In 2002, Barnes published his first book, “Cotton: A Fifty Year Pictorial History.” It won two major honors, the 2004 Award of Merit from the Mississippi Historical Society,” and the 2006 Mississippi Author Award from the Mississippi Library Association.

A second book, “The Beauty of Southern Agriculture,” spotlighting cotton, corn, peanuts, tobacco, and other Southern crops, was published in 2004.

His third book, “The Good Ole Days,” was completed shortly before his death and will be published in September.

Barnes, who retired as a colonel from the Marine Corps Reserve after 37 years, was named Progressive Farmer magazine's “Man of the Year” in 1967 for service to Southern agriculture.

He served a term as president of the American Soybean Association, president of the Mississippi State University Alumni Association, and the Clarksdale Rotary Club.

Services were held Aug. 27 at First Presbyterian Church in Clarksdale, where he was a member and elder emeritus.

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