James Lindsey grew up on his father’s cotton farm in Bolivar County in the 1940s. In this episode, he shares his memories of a life spent farming in the Mississippi Delta.
Lindsey remembers plowing the fields with mules and picking cotton by hand before the days of mechanization. Later as an adult, Lindsey began his career as a cotton farmer on four hundred acres near Cleveland, Mississippi. He recalls increasing the size of his farm to around 3,500 acres and why he later decided to downsize.
Advances in farming equipment, chemicals, and genetically-engineered seeds have led to higher yields per acre for cotton growers. Lindsey discusses the balance between increased cost and profit.
At the time of this interview in 2009, Lindsey had witnessed a drastic decline in the number of cotton farms in the Mississippi Delta. He explains why so many of his neighbors have moved away from cotton production to other crops.
PHOTO: MS State Univ. Extension
1975 – Doyle Ball moved from Amite County, Mississippi to Kansas in 1912 and took a job on a large cattle ranch. In this episode, he recalls learning to rope and ride and how to tend to the cows when they were sick.
During WWII, Ball leased out his farm in Crystal Springs and began working at a shipyard. He describes building mine sweepers and other ships critical for the war effort. After the war, Ball returned to his home in Crystal Springs and opened a dairy farm. He discusses the different types of farming operations he managed during his long career.
In 1975, Ball could look back with pride on the sixty-five years he spent in agriculture. He considers the changes he has witnessed and offers advice to any young farmers just starting out.
1972 - Hiram Todd grew up on his family’s Newton County farm in the 1880s. In this episode, he describes how they grew their own food and raised cotton for cash. After graduating high school, Todd decided to pursue a career in education. He taught school in Ellisville, Crystal Springs and Hattiesburg before moving to Natchez to accept a position with Stanton College, a private academy.
After eight years, Todd began selling insurance for Penn Mutual and John Hancock, eventually moving into farm appraisals and loan brokerage. After World War I, a boom in the cotton market led to risky land speculation in the Delta. Todd recalls how easy credit brought many Mississippians to financial ruin when the market bubble burst in 1920.
Todd discusses the challenges that Mississippians faced in those days, including the awful effects of chronic and communicable diseases. When Todd was young, outbreaks of malaria, typhoid, and yellow fever were common in Mississippi. He remembers how advances in medicine and public health brought these diseases under control.
In 1941, Todd went to work for the Mississippi State Experiment Station. He reflects on how their research led to advances in agriculture and tree farming.
1973 - In 1915 Hawkins Vickers went to work for his brother-in-law selling vegetable plants to local farmers. In this interview from 1973, he explains how that pioneering business model grew into a nationwide industry. Vickers moved to Hattiesburg in 1923 to start his own vegetable plant business. He recalls how two years of bad weather nearly convinced him to return to Georgia.
Raising vegetable plants for industrial farms required mules and manual labor when Vickers started his business in the 1920s. He explains how the development of specialized equipment and growing techniques made their fields more productive and profitable. Vickers would plant vegetable seeds, raise the seedlings to a uniform height, and sell the plants to northern vegetable farms. He discusses the importance of buying seeds from a reputable breeder.
From 1924 until 1966, Vickers Plant Farm was a major source of vegetable plants for northern growers like Campbells, Heinz, and Van Camp. During their busiest year, they shipped over 66 million cabbage plants.
G. R. Harden grew up working on his family’s cotton farm near the Delta town of Cleveland. In this episode, he explains how that experience gave him a leg up when he attended Mississippi State. Taking over the family farm at a young age, Harden felt ill-prepared and unsure of himself. He recalls being taught to think of commercial farming as a game and to always plan ahead.
In the early 1950s, the Hardens transitioned their farm from growing cotton to the production of rice. He discusses why they made the switch and how farming has changed during his fifty years in the business.
After spending decades working on his Cleveland farm, Harden began collecting old tractors. He shares how that hobby led his club to host the Tunica Southern Nationals Antique Tractor Pull.
G. R. Harden passed away on February 20, 2014, at the age of 74.
Growing up in Rosedale, Mississippi, Stanley Ferguson’s house was surrounded by cotton fields. In this episode, he remembers watching the airplanes fly overhead and his decision to become a crop-duster.
In the early days of crop-dusting, the airplanes were usually small, re-purposed military surplus. Ferguson describes how crop-dusting equipment has grown in size, complexity, and price. He also explains how crop-dusters have adopted new methods to increase efficiency and quality.
Podcast Extra: Even though cotton production has evolved over time, some aspects of farm life remain unchanged. For those who didn’t grow up next to a cotton field, Ferguson defines the term “Boll Wars.”
PHOTO: By Stefan Krause, Germany - Own work, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28262700