Jackson County’s Trip to the Delta

By Perry Meyers/Jackson County Farm Bureau President

This trip had its beginnings in a conversation I had with Ken Middleton at a board meeting last year. I was telling him that decisions are made in Jackson that affect Mississippi farmers, and we need to know as much as we can about the different commodities. That way, we will be familiar with what is being discussed and with the needs of farmers.

Farm Bureau holds commodity meetings throughout the year, but I felt we needed to actually visit some farms to get a close-up look at how products are grown and sold. It was time to take a field trip, time to get our feet wet.

Ken started the ball rolling for our tour of the Delta, and what a great job he did. When it was time to leave, we rented a van that held Ken Mallette, Kerney Tilley, Carl Wyatt, Doug Winters, Lisa Taylor, her 14-year-old son Joey, and myself. Then with the van loaded, we traveled the five hours north to Greenville.

We traveled through small towns, taking back roads, seeing buildings in the towns that have not changed as time has moved forward. We are blessed in Mississippi to still have the buildings that have weathered time and are still in place.

Our first stop was the Thad Cochran Warmwater Aquaculture Center at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville. There we met Dr. Jimmy Avery, Extension Professor/Aquaculture Leader, and learned that a large percentage of the work done at the center is in the area of farm-raised catfish. The center studies catfish genetics, nutrition, and diagnostics. It has five wet labs and 21 dry labs.

We learned that it takes three years for a farm-raised catfish to grow from an egg into the sellable product you find in the market. We learned that Mississippi is a leader in farm-raised catfish production. Dr. Avery told us that about 50 million catfish are raised in ponds in the United States each year. That’s an annual $310 million farm gate value. Farm-raised catfish production peaked in 2003, but now losses are due to a lack of demand, imported catfish, Tilapia, feed prices, and fuel costs.

We learned about the dimensions of the ponds and the stocking rates for the catfish. Sue King Berry fed some catfish in a pond and, boy, what a sight. The machine scattered the feed, and the fish started to boil the water. Ken laughed when he saw my mouth drop open in astonishment and the expression of disbelief on my face. We talked about stocking rates, the need for oxygen, and the predators of catfish. We gained so much information about the catfish industry that day.
Our next stop was GT & T Farm, where we visited with Tim Clements and Ted Smith and learned about soybean production. Tim met us at his shop and showed us the equipment it takes to run the farm. Tractors filled the shed, along with a 90-foot spray boom and a 40-foot planter with a monitoring device and GPS system. This is what I enjoyed seeing.

Tim expressed his concerns about fuel prices, cost of seed, and the risks of not irrigating crops. We were able to see in the field the difference between irrigated and non-irrigated soybeans, and Tim showed us how irrigation works in the field. He helped us understand how the roll of polypipe, an irrigation tube, was laid out, and even how holes were punched in the tubes to let the water run out into the fields.

Our next topic was how rotational planting is needed for the crops and how beans provide nitrogen for the soil. Around this time, our heads were hurting from the amount of information we had learned.

The following day, we traveled to Marvin Cochran’s farm. Marvin taught us about rice production. He showed us what he used for planting rice and how the equipment is installed. He told us how the fields are graded and about the cost of irrigation. We were also told that long-grain rice is the major type of rice grown in Mississippi.

Another farm we visited was Nelson and King Farm. George King, a cotton producer, took us through a cotton gin and showed us how the gin separates the cotton from the seed and how the cotton is baled after being cleaned. The cotton gin employs 12 people. In the past, the gin processed 40,000 bales; however, this year, King is only expecting 5,000 bales because of the reduction of planted cotton.

We visited cotton fields, and King explained to us how he used to spray pesticides every other day for boll weevils but now he mainly sprays for weeds. However, he says he keeps an eye out for infestations. King has to use irrigation or reductions in yields would be costly to him.

When fields are wet and bugs are a problem, the only way to spray the fields is by plane. So we went to a plane hanger and learned the dos and don’ts of spraying a field. We saw how the spray tips are more precise for the application of chemicals. Speed is a factor when spraying, and there is a 10-mile restriction when spraying Roundup. Wind direction must also be known.

Now to the Middleton farm. Ken Middleton met us at the workshop. The first thing he showed us was the equipment. Ken cranked one of the tractors and asked if anyone wanted to drive. Joey jumped at the chance to drive this tractor!

Ken sat in the cab with Joey and showed him how to operate the controls. They left at a crawl pace. When Joey rounded the building in the tractor by himself, he was grinning from ear to ear. We as farmers drive tractors every day, but for Joey, this will be one for the memories!

Ken then took us through the fields and showed us the irrigated cornfields, which were very impressive. We were introduced to Blake New with the NRCS. Ken and Blake talked to us about erosion and the major steps Ken uses, like berms, sediment controls and culverts, to keep erosion to a minimum.

At the end of the day, it was a treat to take a boat ride on Lake Washington, where we met Captain Howard New. It was a relaxing time on the water, a time to observe the wildlife and cypress trees along the shoreline and to hear a little history of this great lake! This was a great way to end a very informative trip.

If you’re ever in Greenville and you want to eat a good steak, check out Doe’s Eat Place. You won’t be disappointed!

We left Greenville with a great respect for Delta farms. They are enormous. Jackson County farms are made up of cattle, forestry, some row crops, goats, hay, and honey bees. Industries like Chevron, Northrop Grumman, shrimping, oystering, and tourism make for a diversified income. However, in the Delta, it’s all about farming. Thousands and thousands of acres of corn, soybeans, cotton, and rice are some of the crops grown. The Delta is also a major farm-raised catfish producer.

Machinery that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars blew us away. The price of a single disk was $52,000. Tractors were around $325,000, and fuel for one month in 2008 was $72,000 on one farmer’s property.

We as farmers know about our own area’s needs and concerns, but we should know as much as we can about other farming concerns. Farm Bureau members are encouraged to take a trip, attend commodity meetings, meet other farmers, and talk shop. We are small and large farmers but all in this together in Mississippi with Farm Bureau leading the way.

Although it took us a little longer going home, we traveled off the main road again, which gave us a chance to see more old stores, restaurants, farmland, and hometowns. We realized what a great state we are a part of!

We can’t close without thanking Washington County Farm Bureau secretary, Sharon Dantzler; Thad Cochran Warmwater Aquaculture Center in Stoneville; Dr. Jimmy Avery; our hosts, Tim Clements, Ted Smith, Marvin Cochran and George King; Blake New, NRCS, and Howard New, boat captain.

A special thanks to Washington County Farm Bureau President Ken Middleton for getting our tour organized, driving us around, showing us the farms and giving us some good old Southern hospitality. Thanks Y’all!

Perry Meyers and the Jackson County Farm Bureau Board

P. S. Joey would like to thank Ken for letting him drive the Big Green Tractor

© 2007 Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation