Sunday, March 7, 2021

Coopwood: Cotton and the Mississippi Delta

As we move into another planting season in the Mississippi Delta, I have thought a lot lately about the cotton fields that were so prevalent here when I was growing up in the 1960s.

Photo by Ed Meek
Photo courtesy Ed Meek Collection of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, University Library Archives

In those days, the Delta was full of cotton. During the fall, my grandfather’s cotton gin in Shelby was abuzz in action. His gin was the center of social activity for the men of our small town each ginning season. In the evenings, 15 or 20 men would congregate. They cooked on an old stove in a back room, visited, and had a good time that would end somewhere around midnight. Perhaps it was a celebration of having worked so hard all year growing the crop and now finally it was time to enjoy the rewards cotton production offered then.

No doubt about it, cotton was king in the Delta when I was growing up. Prices were good and the overheads reasonable. However, over the past 35 years we have seen a large decline in cotton production. Every now and then the stars will line up just right and our Delta farmers will jump right back in planting cotton … for that one year. Then, the next several years you can drive by that same field and grain crops will be growing in it.

Photo by Ed Meek
Photo courtesy Ed Meek Collection of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, University Library Archives

Why?

During the past couple of years, and especially this year, ag pundits predicted cotton production was going to increase. However, prices per pound hit a five year low in January, but recently started to climb giving hope to growers. Then, last week, prices began to fall due to a large order of 95,000 bales being cancelled by the country of Turkey. The recent discovery of above average global stockpiles (a record 109 million bales at the end of the last season) hurt prices as well. And now, China’s decision to reduce imports also adds to the fall.

When the market price and the demand for cotton is favorable, cotton production can be a windfall for farmers. This scenario seems more rare in recent times because of less demand, poor prices, and the large overhead it takes to grow cotton these days. I often wonder about the lack of cotton gins as well. When I was growing up in Shelby, we had five or more gins in town. Today, I bet we don’t have five cotton gins located in my entire county.

Still, I long for those cotton fields that stretch as far as you can see because to me, that scene means “MISSISSIPPI DELTA.” I’m crossing my fingers that things will one day change and our farmers can return to growing cotton. And, if that day does arrive, I hope our farmers make a fortune growing cotton because that in turn will help the Delta!


ScottCoopwoodPhoto-843x1024Scott Coopwood, a seventh generation Deltan, lives in Cleveland, Mississippi, with his wife Cindy and their three children. Scott is the publisher and owner of Delta Magazine, one of the South’s leading lifestyle publications, the Delta Business Journal, the first business publication in the Mississippi Delta; and Cleveland’s weekly newspaper, The Cleveland Current. Scott’s company also publishes two weekly e-newsletters. Coopwood publishing concerns now reach 250,000 people.  Scott is also a 1984 graduate of the University of Mississippi. He can be reached at scott@coopwood.net

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