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- On a warm, cloudless, day last October, Coley Bailey Sr. opened the door of the tractor driven by his son, Coley Jr. and over the radio chatter and whine of machinery, announced, “We’re processing 1,100 pounds of seed cotton a minute.”
- Efficiency is such an overused word in agriculture these days, one hesitates to use it to describe Coffeeville, Miss., farmer Coley Bailey Jr.
The cotton field behind Coley Bailey, Sr., and Coley Bailey, Jr., was once farmed by James K. Polk, the country's 11th president.
Something unique in the Bailey operation took two years of working with environmental agencies and the Abitibi Bowater paper mill at Grenada, Miss. Under an agreement with the paper mill, the farm takes ash from the paper production process and applies it to their farmland. It provides all of the farm’s fertility needs, except nitrogen.
“It has been a win/win situation for the paper mill and for us, and it really has been a blessing in weathering high fertilizer prices,” Coley Jr. says.
“We had to get the Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency to come in and test soils and do other testing. The paperwork took two years, but 7,500 tons of ash per year that was just going into landfills is now providing fertility for our crops.”
Their cotton is scouted three times a week, which is a bit unusual, Coley Jr. says, but if closer checking of the crop eliminates one or two sprays a season, it’s worth it. “Plus, I like to know what’s going on — I want to know if what we’re spraying is working.”
Joe Worthy, of Clarksdale, Miss., does aerial application work for the Baileys, and their consultant, Ty Edwards, is also gin manager at Yalobusha Gin, where they gin their cotton. They market their crop through Staplcotn.
During the season, they get valuable advice and service from Extension Agents Steve Winters in Grenada County, and Brent Gray in Yalobusha County, Bill Bailey from Crop Production Services in Grenada and their local John Deere dealer, Wade Equipment in Grenada.
Winters, Extension director for Grenada County, has known the Baileys through 22 cotton growing seasons. “They have a cutting edge type of operation,” he says. “If a new technology comes along and they think it might cut costs or increase yields, they’re going to give it a try.”
All of the Baileys’ full-time work crew push hard to keep the pickers turning, too. Billy Earl Jennings, 62, started working for the Baileys in 1976; James Marion, 67, and Darold Marion, 40, in 1995; and Gwenn Topps, 47, this season.
“They take the lead on getting equipment ready,” Coley Jr. says. “They’ve been with us for a long time, and I can depend on them. When we had to plant our crop in six days last spring, they were here at 5:30 a.m., filling up machinery with diesel and seed so we could start running at 6 a.m. We ran until dark.”
The Baileys take care of their workers, too. Each module builder is equipped with a closed, air-conditioned cab.