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Interview with Frank Corban, September 6, 2016

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:20 - Early life and education

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Partial Transcript: So Mr. Corban, can you tell me a bit about yourself growing up? Where were you born?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes growing up on the family farm. He talks about their diversified approach to farming by raising dairy cattle, beef cattle, and other livestock, as well as vegetables, corn, and hay. He mentions attending Mississippi State University where he majored in animal husbandry. Corban discusses becoming an assistant county agent in Tunica County, Mississippi.

Keywords: Jefferson County, Mississippi; cattle; college; dairy industry; diversification; forest club; produce; university

00:09:19 - Agriculture in the 1950s-1960s

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Partial Transcript: What was agriculture like there at the time?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes cotton production in the mid-1950s to the early 1960s, and talks about increased mechanization with mechanical pickers. He describes the problem of boll weevils and boll rot which destroyed cotton crops.

Keywords: bollworms; crop dusters; fertile soil; hand labor; insecticides; insects; rain; tractors

00:15:57 - Pesticides

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Partial Transcript: And so there were a lot of chemicals used in the 1950s, right?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes the increased use of insecticides in farming and in daily life. He talks of the toxicity of early pesticides compared to the less harmful DDT, which he exemplifies through stories about an African American farm worker who got constantly covered with DDT dust and a prominent farmer who swallowed DDT. He talks about how people tried to avoid being sprayed by the crop dusters, but he states that the human toxicity of the insecticides was relatively low.

Keywords: airplanes; boll weevil; cotton; environmentalists; flame cultivation; fleas; herbicidal oil; household insects; immunity; pesticides; toxaphene

00:31:21 - Mississippi Delta and career as a county agent

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Partial Transcript: So you moved from Jefferson county to Tunica was it--well to Mississippi State then Tunica.

Segment Synopsis: Corban talks about the less established population of the Mississippi Delta region as a result of the dangerous wildlife, swampy terrain, and malaria outbreaks known to the area. He talks about his work as a county agent and discusses how he would refer farmers to specialists and do hands-on work like inspecting crops for insects.

Keywords: Jefferson County, Mississippi; Mississippi State University; Tunica County, Mississippi; boll weevils; cotton; insecticides; livestock; mosquitoes; pesticides; plantations; soy beans

00:43:52 - Race relations and loss of small farms

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Partial Transcript: Was there much happening with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s in Sunflower County or Sharkey County?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes how an African American county agent worked mostly with the black farmers while Corban worked mostly with the white farmers, but he mentions that they were in the same office and sometimes collaborated. Corban talks about how both black and white small farmers had to sell their land because they could not grow enough to make a living.

Keywords: Sharkey County, Mississippi; black farmers; home economist; integration; large farms; small farms

00:50:21 - Vegetable, cotton, soybean, and corn markets

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Partial Transcript: Were there any small vegetable growers or were they all cotton growers?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes how farmers tried to diversify their production with vegetables and livestock, but he states that they had limited success due to erratic markets. He talks about how farmers have repeatedly abandoned and then return to cotton because of varying prices. Corban discusses how farmers have recently sold their cotton farm equipment and focused on soy beans and corn which he thinks is a bad idea in the long run.

Keywords: Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS); cotton allotments; cotton gin; crop prices; diversification; green beans; harvester; labor; livestock; okra; spinach; sweet potatoes; tomatoes; vegetable farms

01:06:03 - Boll Weevil Eradication Program

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Partial Transcript: So when you were extension agent here in Sharkey County what did--what were the things you spent most of your time on?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes his involvement as a county agent in every stage of cotton production. He talks about working on research and experimentation with Dr. George Mullendore which lead to the Boll Weevil Eradication Program. The program focused on preventing boll weevils from going into diapause by continuing to spray cotton crops after they reached maturity and cutting cotton stalks immediately after harvest. Corban describes facing some opposition from farmers due to the cost of the pesticides, but he says he was able to get most farmers involved and successfully eradicate the boll weevil in the area.

Keywords: Boll Weevil Diapause Program; Cotton Board; National Cotton Council; Stonewall, Mississippi; adaptation; aerial operators; boll weevil traps; chemical companies; cotton; hibernation; insecticides; marketing specialists; metaparadigm; monitoring; soy beans; variety testing

01:19:51 - Agricultural differences between Sharkey County and Sunflower County

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Partial Transcript: How would agriculture here in Skarkey County compare to agriculture in other Delta counties during the 60s and 70s? Would you say it was about the same or were there some maybe differences?

Segment Synopsis: Corban talks about the difference in cotton production in Sharkey County and Sunflower County. He states that farmers in Sharkey County produced more cotton and had a higher standard of living than farmers in Sunflower County because Sharkey County had better soil. He also tells a story about a farmer who used geese for weed control.

Keywords: Tunica, Mississippi; copping cotton; cotton bails; farm equipment; fertilizer; grass; insecticides; lime; money; pesticides; productive soil; tractors; trucks

01:29:26 - Politics

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Partial Transcript: Did you ever know--have any dealings with any politicians like Senator Eastland?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes talking with Senator James Eastland about his farming practices. He discusses local and state politics, mentioning how the extension office had agents in every county which enabled them to mobilize locals to influence elected officials and increase funding for services.

Keywords: 4-H; Mississippi Extension Office; extension agents; families; farming; representatives

01:34:43 - Chemical regulation and representatives

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Partial Transcript: At the level of regulation, how did that impact agriculture around here? The regulation about chemicals and stuff.

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes calibrating spray rigs and recommending chemicals to farmers as a county agent. He talks about how county agents had to make chemical recommendations based on regulation and prolonged research in comparison to chemical company representatives who tried to sell particular chemicals. Corban discusses having a positive relationship with chemical company representatives and even attending their conferences.

Keywords: chemical regulation; herbicides; insecticides; pesticides

01:45:27 - Retirement

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Partial Transcript: So you retired when you were 55?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes retiring at 55 after 33 years of service as a county agent because he was able to draw civil service retirement and state retirement. He talks about doing agricultural consulting and owning a car wash and pest control business which he eventually sold. He talks about owning his childhood home and 115 acres of family land where he has horses and blueberries.

Subjects: Jefferson County, Mississippi; children; family; house; siblings; small business owner

01:51:20 - Skip-row cotton and Clean Bean Program

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Partial Transcript: You were telling me a second ago that you rode a cotton cart to the mill.

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes working on the family dairy business as a child, miking cows and delivering the milk. He also talks about the varying cotton markets in the 1960s and 1970s and mentions how farmers increased yields of planted acres through skip-row planting in which empty rows are left between cotton plants to increase yields and drought tolerance. He discusses his Clean Bean Program in Sharkey County which he implemented to help soy bean farmers deal with johnson grass. The program killed johnson grass through intensive tilling followed by spraying herbicides.

Keywords: Treflan herbicide; cotton allotment; johnsongrass; minimum tillage; rhizomes

02:01:51 - Agricultural changes and obstacles

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Partial Transcript: So between the 1970s and the 1980s, were there any kind of major changes in agriculture that you saw occur in Sharkey County?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes the increasing use of computers in agriculture for farm planning. He talks about how he mitigated tensions as a county agent between farmers and nearby homeowners over chemical drift from the aerial application of pesticides and herbicides. He argues that people unfairly blame agricultural air pollution for problems when indoor air pollution is worse.

Keywords: allergies; computer programs; cotton defoliation; crop dusters; damages; defoliants; hairspray; mosquitoes; production costs

02:12:47 - Carter brothers and Total Cotton Production program

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Partial Transcript: So you worked with the Carter brothers?

Segment Synopsis: Corban talks about working with the Carter brothers on their large farm where he would do test plots. He describes his Total Cotton Production program that encouraged farmers to simultaneously use all the recommendations for increasing cotton yields.

Keywords: Carter Brothers Farms; James R. "Jimmy Dick" Carter; Mississippi State University; county agent; family farm; potassium; technology

02:19:05 - Agricultural and social change

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Partial Transcript: In terms of, you know, Rolling Folk as a whole and Sharkey County as a whole, how have things, you know, changed since you moved here?

Segment Synopsis: Corban talks about how there are now less farmers and larger farms. He describes how commercial corn and catfish production has become increasingly popular. He discusses how Sharkey County has always been majority African American, mentioning that the diversity is good and that there has not been any major racial problems.

Keywords: Civil Rights Movement; County Extension Service; Dr. George Mullendore; Helena Chemical Company; black farmers; cotton; race relations; rice; soy beans; wheat

02:25:49 - Success in farming

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Partial Transcript: What in your mind has determined which farmers have been most successful over time?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes how success in farming is determined by a farmer's land and their business skills. He states that the future of Sharkey County is bright because the demand for agriculture will continue to increase as the population increases. Corban shares a story about a local black farmer who was very well read and informed about farming but was not successful because he waited too long to plant and tend to his crops.

Keywords: Deer Creek land; James R. "Jimmy Dick" Carter; Sunflower County, Mississippi; bankruptcy; credit; farming tradition; money; persistence; savings; soil; timing

02:35:00 - Children

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Partial Transcript: You have three sons you said? Did you have any daughters?

Segment Synopsis: Corban mentions how his first wife died of ALS after having three sons, and he talks about remarrying and gaining a step-daughter. Corban describes how all of his sons are involved in agriculture through farming, chemical companies, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Keywords: Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS); agricultural sciences; family; grandchildren