On The Mudline

A New Day

After a less-than-exciting half-week attending the annual conference of our United Methodist Church, Nannette and I are back home.  A bright light of that half-week was seeing many friends from around the state.  It’s still good to be home again.  

On the shelf behind me there is a stack of the late issues of Delta Farm Press. In most of them one or both of the lead stories deals with sources of alternate fuels (my car is filled with $2.76/gallon, Jackson gas).  The sources dealt with  are corn, soybeans, sweet sorghum, Camelina sativa (you’ve probably never heard of this one but it was grown 3500 years ago in Europe).  It is considered a weed in the United States today but the University of Idaho people are excited about it.  Some people think that it might be the next “wonder crop.”  

“Our Wonder Crop”

I grew up on a diversified farm.  I  have told you about most of the families on the place having a small acreage of sorghum for making molasses.  The dairy farm part of that diversification required tons of feed for the dairy herd.  Although the mow was always full of hay what my father thought was the best feed came from the silos (we wound up with three).  

It took many acres of lespedeza, pea vine, and sometimes soybean hay to fill that hay mow which provided feed for the work stock as well as the dairy herd.  Those silos were filled, most years, from a six-acre field, along the bank of O’Tuckalofa, immediately behind the barn.      

The only fertilizer that I remember applying to that field was the manure from the barn.  The crop grown there was always a variety of sweet sorghum, Japanese seeded ribbon cane.  My memory is pretty good about that field for, after we got the piece of equipment that no manufacturer or salesperson, – even Mr. Bill Trusty – would   stand behind, an International 100 manure spreader, I, along with one helper for loading, spread the fertilizer, then broke, disked, planted, and cut (after we purchased a binder).  My last job, along with sister Ruth, was cutting the seed heads off the loads of sorghum. This crop, for our area, may be the next wonder crop.  

The Credentials

Much of the work on alternative fuels in this area has been done by the people at Oklahoma State although Mississippi State is listed as one of two places where sweet sorghum seed are available.  When I refer to sweet sorghum I am speaking of the kind we used for making molasses.  This sorghum will grow and produce on most of the soils in this area of the country.  We fertilized it for maximum tonnage and got maximum tonnage, although my professor at MSU who wrote the book and taught the course, fertilizers and manures, would tell you that manure was next to worthless.   

The research, of people  at Oklahoma, tells us that by far the greatest production of ethanol is from the juice of sweet sorghum (this includes all the materials being tested).  That research even tells us where the sweetest juice of the cane is found. Because ethanol is one step from alcohol the federal officials are interested in all these ethanol plants and will have to approve and license the plants (no hidden stills).

The Change

Cotton has been king.  I grew up on a dairy, cotton, corn etc. farm—because it definitely was diversified—but the cotton was always babied.  On our farm today we take care of soybeans first.  My question then is in the near future will we see the fuel farm emerge—in the past most towns had one or two cotton gins and maybe a feed mill.  

Will we see the day when there will be an ethanol converter to process sweet sorghum  juice—in that article in Delta Farm Press—the people in Oklahoma  already have one on the market.  They are bringing barge loads of  “Black Strap” up from Louisiana, to fill the gaps when they cannot get enough sweet sorghum juice.  

But then there is another commentator who says that China and India are losing cotton production land and water supplies to factories.  If this continues and their cotton production lags there is a strong chance that the world price of cotton will increase by 45% over the next two years. We live in a changing world!

It is fun!  Had an afternoon visit with Winfred McCain just before going to that conference—we had fun discussing our young years.  We hope you have a great week—we are hoping to do the same.  

You can reach me most of the time at 23542 Highway 6, Batesville, MS 38606, wsissell@bellsouth.net or 662-563-9879.

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