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Yalobusha Farmers Remain Resilient In Changing Times

Grain Harvest – Yalobusha farmer Kevin Kimzey (in combine) dumps his load of soybeans into a waiting tractor as County MSU Extension Agent Steve Cummings hops in the cab for a brief visit. – Photo by David Howell

Coley Little Bailey stands beside a cotton module as his employees move from field to field picking cotton in two different counties. – Photo by David Howell

This is the first time since 1944 that the Kimzeys do not have cotton planted. – Kevin Kimzey

By David Howell

YALOBUSHA – Though cotton acreage statewide and in Yalobusha continues to dip, several local cotton producers have expanded the land they devote to the traditional fiber crop, and others are hoping for a comeback in the future.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest forecast predicts the state’s cotton acreage this year is 360,000 acres, down from 655,000 in 2007. The shift comes after cotton prices have not kept up with the price of grain crops.

    In Yalobusha, 4,030 acres of cotton were planted this year, down 60 percent from the 10,700 acres planted in 2003, and down from the 5,537 acres last year, according to information provided by the Yalobusha FSA.

    Among exceptions is Yalobusha farmer Coley Little Bailey. He farms 1,200 acres in the southern portion of the county and another 1,500 acres in Grenada County – all cotton.

    “I feel like I know how to grow cotton,” Bailey said, when the Herald and MSU Extension Agent Steve Cummings caught up with him in the cotton field last Friday. “All the support equipment is bought and paid for,” he explains.

    After a flip-flop summer with dry conditions prevailing in early months, followed by an unusual amount of rainfall in July and August, Bailey said it is still too early to tell about this year’s yield. With pickers running in the background at a field in southern Yalobusha on Highway 7, just at the county line, his crew had picked almost 700 acres. “It looks like I am right dead on where I was last year,” Bailey estimated, judging by the number of cotton modules in each field.

    Last year, he harvested close to 900 pounds per acre.

    “I feel like I got a better chance with cotton, it holds up better than corn or soybeans,” he said, referring to the usual dry and hot Mississippi summers and no irrigation in the smaller, hill country fields in Yalobusha.

Making The Transition

    Hours earlier, Cummings and I had been on the other side of the county, making a few rows with Kevin Kimzey as he picked soybeans.

    “This is the first time since 1944 that the Kimzeys do not have cotton planted,” Kimzey reports as he maneuvers his combine methodically through the rows.

    Soybeans acreage leads in Yalobusha this year, with 7,959 acres in production according to FSA statistics. Corn is a distant third, accounting for 2,156 acres in Yalobusha. Wheat follows closely, with 1,914 acres in the county.

    “We had to go out and get us grain equipment,” Kimzey explains, as the combine’s hopper slowly fills. He works with his brothers, Chad and Larry Wayne Kimzey, continuing the family tradition started in Yalobusha when their grandfather moved here in 1944.

    Kimzey estimates their soybean crop is a little above average and corn crop a little below average.

    “It’s a miracle it made what it did, we almost went the whole month of June with no rain,” Kimzey adds.

    By Friday, they had harvested half of their beans and all of their corn. Just up Highway 315, south of Water Valley, his neighbor, friend and fellow farmer, John Ingram, was lending a hand, also harvesting the Kimzey’s beans.

    “We are a close-knit group, helping each other out,” Kimzey explains. In June, Kimzey had helped Ingram harvest his wheat crop. This year, Kimzey said they are also considering planting wheat, another first for his family.

    “It spreads the work load out,” he explains.

    This year also marks the second that the Ingram family has no cotton planted, Kimzey said.

More Cotton

    Water Valley farmer Mike Williamson shares Bailey’s philosophy about cotton. He and his brother, Pat Williamson, increased their cotton acreage almost 100 acres this year, planting 1,450 acres scattered across Yalobusha and Lafayette counties.

    “The economics say beans instead of cotton,” Williamson told the Herald Tuesday. Williamson reiterates Bailey’s reasoning – the drawback, with Mississippi’s dry summers, is that a drought can drastically hurt the crop.

    “Beans need water big-time,” Williamson explains.

    In addition to his cotton acreage, he planted 505 acres of corn this year.

    “It breaks the disease and weed cycle in the soil,” he explains about his cotton/ corn rotation. Williamson estimated that he has picked 100 bushels of corn per acre this year.

    “We can live with that in the hill country,” Williamson explains.

    As for the cotton, Williamson reports the yield fluctuates in various areas of the county.

    “There was a band of the county, north of Coffeeville and south of Water Valley, that had a half-inch of rain in six weeks,” the farmer explains. Other areas had more rain and more cotton and Williamson, who is halfway through picking, estimates an average of two bales per acre.

Will Cotton Make A Comeback?

    All three farmers share a common sentiment – a love for growing cotton.

    “I don’t see going into beans unless I am forced to,” Williamson said about the coming years.

    He predicts bean and corn prices will remain high, especially with the biofuel industry seemingly becoming stronger each year.

    “I got a feeling cotton is going to make a comeback,” Bailey said about future years. He thinks that prices will begin to come back in 2010 when cotton consumption is expected to begin exceeding production for multiple years.

    “I hope the cotton comes back,” Kimzey agrees as he stops to dump his first load of beans for the day.

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