Cotton Links


Things Have Changed

By Tim Richards
Yazoo City, Miss.

Coming from very humble beginnings, I can’t help but reflect on my life and the way things have changed.

Growing up on a dairy farm in Mashulaville, Miss., my Daddy and his older brother operated the family farm together.

They milked cows twice a day, 365 days a year, raised cotton on a small scale and had a very good but simple life. Everyone in the community had a garden and “put up” their stores of food for the entire year. Daddy and Uncle Everett also raised beef and several hogs, and our families would divide the meat for the year.

We had families of Choctaw Indians on the farm, and they “lived off the land” even more than we did. The only thing they didn’t save on a hog was the “squeal.” They fished, hunted, ground corn in a hollowed- out log with a blunt stick, and, of course, made their own “firewater.”

None of us had much money to spend on fancy things like we do today, but we had – as I see now – all we needed for a self-sufficient life. We made our own way.

Things have changed. It used to be if Momma didn’t cook, we went hungry. And believe me, she cooked for every meal. I’ve seen her clean ducks, butcher deer I harvested and provide for all of her family’s needs. In addition, she kept the house and our clothes spotless and taught her kids manners.

Things have changed. Daddy told me he sent himself to college each year back in the late 1940s by farming two acres of cotton that his brother would help him chop and later hand pick. They carried the picked cotton in a wooden wagon to the gin 15 miles away in Macon, Miss. There it was ginned, and then they brought back a load of cottonseed hulls from the local mill to feed livestock. Oh yeah, I might mention there was no dependency on foreign oil either because the wagon was powered by mules that were fed hay and corn from the farm.

After graduating from Mississippi State University with a degree in agriculture, Daddy started in the business of cotton insect consulting. This was in the early 1950s, and chemical pre-emerge treatments were just coming on the scene. Chopping and plowing were still the way of the day, and frequently fields or cuts would be abandoned due to weeds choking out the cotton.

After several seasons, the boll weevil problem got so bad due to chemical resistance that he considered going back to the dairy business full time. He decided he’d stick it out, and as fate would have it, methyl parathion came on the scene and controlled the boll weevil. Once again, raising cotton was profitable. Daddy said from that moment on he never looked back and went on to enjoy 53 years in the cotton insect consulting business.

I know the only thing constant is change, and this is fresh on my mind as we have finished harvesting our genetically-engineered cotton crop. We are no longer self-sufficient due to our dependence on mostly foreign-made products for our inputs. We depend on foreign oil to supply our energy to operate our farm equipment and automobiles. Fertilizer prices are out the roof due to a world market. We sell our fiber at a price that is dictated by a world market, which is usually below the cost of U.S. production. We store this cotton now and wait on foreign mills to pay a very low price for it. We then ship it overseas, and they make clothing from it and then ship it back to us.

I’ll admit I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I can see a change in patterns here. Self- sufficiency was signed away with NAFTA, and we no longer live off the land the way we once did. If we had our own mills, it might create local jobs that would, in turn, give us money to buy foreign cars, foreign oil and, of course, fast food that we so greatly depend on nowadays. Go figure.

– Tim Richards, Yazoo City, Miss.


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