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Cotton – For many, it’s personal

Carroll Smith

Carroll Smith

While sitting in the historic Abbay & Leatherman Commissary building and later driving through the beautiful flat land that characterizes the Mississippi Delta, Gary Bailey and I talked cotton. We went over all the physical details from planting the seed to protecting the plants to harvesting the crop and delivering it to its ultimate destination — Three Way Gin in Tunica, Miss. We discussed all facets of the intricate journey from the bag to the bale. So what is it about this crop that instills such loyalty and passion in people?

Perhaps Bailey sums it up best after I posed that question to him. “To me, unlike the other crops, cotton has a personality,” he says. And according to Merriam-Webster, the definition of personality is “the quality or state of being a person.” If you agree with this, then the relationship between many farmers and their cotton crop is personal.

Several years ago when cotton “went away” for a while, it was mourned in many places like a favorite great-aunt who had unexpectedly died. Driving through the Delta down Highway 61 became a sad experience of sorts. We missed seeing the endless cotton fields that had been replaced by mostly corn and soybeans. Even though these grain crops were paying the bills at the time, many farmers yearned to bring back cotton and the rich history and tradition surrounding it.

The good news today is that cotton is making a comeback and being celebrated on many levels. For example, Bailey, who is featured in the cover story on page 8, has established a new father-daughter tradition in their family. In early summer, he brings their girls, Ann Collins, 11, and Bren, 6, out to the farm to walk cotton fields looking for the first bloom, which is believed to hold the promise of good things to come.

And Kevin Earnheart, the Tennessee farmer who spoke at a recent field event, was quick to say he and his father are proud of the fact they exclusively farm cotton on 6,135 acres. We also learned about Red Land Cotton that day. This Alabama family farming enterprise, owned and operated by Mark Yeager since 1983, recently launched “farm to fabric” high-quality cotton sheets.

According to the company’s website — www.redlandcotton.com — the Yeager family takes its business personally. “With the entire family working by his side, we set out to create heirloom-inspired linens from the homegrown cotton that we were growing for a level of quality we could take pride in….And just like that, Red Land Cotton was born.”

As if addressing a dear friend who has finally reappeared on the doorstep, I am happy to say, “Welcome home, cotton!”

If you have comments, please send them to: Cotton Farming Magazine, 7201 Eastern Ave., Germantown, TN, 38138. Contact Carroll Smith via email at csmith@onegrower.com.