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Interview with Kevin Corban, September 6, 2016

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:11 - Early Life

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Partial Transcript: Mr Corban, could you tell me a bit about yourself growing up?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes growing up in Rolling Fork, Mississippi where he lived across from a cotton field. He talks about how white people previously lived in town before gradually moving to the county as African Americans moved into town. He mentions going to a partially integrated school under Freedom of Choice before his school became fully integrated in third grade.

Keywords: Civil Rights Movement; Frank Corban; Sharkey County, Mississippi; county agent; integration; picking cotton; public school; school teacher; segregation

00:05:42 - Early work in agriculture

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Partial Transcript: How did agriculture change in the, you know, in the early days you remember?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes working in agriculture from age ten when he started hoeing cotton in the field by his house. He talks about cotton scouting from age 14 when he began by counting insects in fields. After Corban assessed the insects levels, his father made the chemical recommendations. Later, Corban operated his own cotton scouting business after college. He states that cotton scouts were mostly white since the farmers hired them through community connections. He also talks about flagging fields for agricultural aircraft to show the pilots where to spray chemicals. He mentions a summer job when he was in college where he worked in a boll weevil laboratory that sterilized boll weevils before returning them to the wild. He describes attending Mississippi State University where he received a B.S. in Agronomy and a Masters degree in Crop Pest Management.

Keywords: DDT; Organophosphates (OP); boll weevils; bollworms; child labor; cotton scout; crop dusters; education; entomology; farm crews; graduate school; insecticides; minimum wage; plant bugs; race; tractor

00:23:31 - Independent work as a cotton scout

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Partial Transcript: For a couple of summers there I would--after I'd graduated and gotten my license, I was on my own, and I had a few farmers that I worked with.

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes conducting informal crop inspections while he was in college before he became certified and started his own business. He discusses the difference between inspecting soy beans and cotton, mentioning how cotton required more work because it was vulnerable to insects for a longer period of time and required more frequent applications of pesticides. He talks about filling out forms about each field and discussing the results with the farmers.

Keywords: boll weevils; bollworms; cotton scout; farm labor; farm workers; plant bugs; spider mites

00:29:36 - Chemical recommendations

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Partial Transcript: Did having people out in the fields cause any complications in terms of the chemicals you could recommend or anything like that?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes how workers would stay out of the fields immediately after pesticide applications. He talks about how insects would develop resistance to pesticides over time, necessitating the development of new chemicals. He discusses his process for making insecticide recommendations to farmers based on price, effectiveness, and state guidelines. Corban talks about how most farmers began to use crop consultants and scouts to determine pesticide applications in the late 1950s instead of the previous method of automatic application.

Keywords: AZODRIN; EPN; Methyl parathion; Monocrotophos; Organophosphates (OP); Pyrethroid; boll weevils; bollworms; bud worms; insect thresholds

00:36:45 - Negotiating chemical application with farmers

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Partial Transcript: Were there any sort of situations in which the things you would recommend would be different from what a farmer wanted to do?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes negotiating with farmers, discussing how some farmers did not listen to his recommendations and others delayed pesticide applications which increased insect damage. He talks about how some insects like bollworms could only be killed when they were small. Corban describes how some farmers were influenced by advertisements and chemical salesmen, but he says that he based his recommendations on Mississippi State University's insect control guides.

Keywords: advertising; chemical companies; chemical resistance; cotton scout; employers; insecticides; marketing

00:43:02 - Managing cotton scouting business

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Partial Transcript: And so, during this period of time--during the 1980s, were you still working for the Carter brothers?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes hiring young adults to help him inspect fields for insects during the summer. He discusses how good cotton scouts were healthy, honest, and reliable. Corban says that while he only had male employees, he knew some female scouts. He talks about how he initially scouted soy beans before switching to cotton until prices dropped and he returned to soy beans and corn. He describes how he began his career by working with smaller farmers, and he talks about the consolidating of farms over the years which caused many small farmers to go out of business.

Keywords: crop inspectors; crop scouts; gender; insects; small business

00:49:13 - Agricultural chemicals and catfish farming

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Partial Transcript: So is there catfish farming around here as well?

Segment Synopsis: Corban discusses the problem of chemical drift into catfish ponds which could kill the fish. He talks about how farmers would avoid spraying pesticides next to the ponds or use ground machines since they caused less chemical drift than airplanes. He also talks about how he mostly recommended pesticides as a cotton scout while county agents and chemical companies made herbicide recommendations. He describes how homeowners had mixed reactions to pesticide use, talking about how some did not want agricultural airplanes flying over their house while others asked the pilots to spray insecticides when they flew by.

Keywords: agricultural aircraft; crop duster; fish farming; pesticide applicators; pilots; pisciculture; pollution

00:54:45 - Crop insurance

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Partial Transcript: When did you get into insurance?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes his switch from scouting cotton to selling crop insurance, talking about how inspecting crops was hard physical labor and time consuming during the summer months. He discusses how he used his social connections in the community and agricultural knowledge to successfully sell crop insurance. Corban describes how crop insurance is based on farmers' established yields, and he discusses how farmers could buy different levels of coverage to protect them if they had low yields. He talks about how the majority of farmers buy some level of crop insurance and mentions how crop insurance is subsidized by the government. He states that crop insurance does not factor significantly into pesticide applications since farmers have to prove that they put in all the necessary inputs like fertilizer, weed control, and pesticides in order to claim damages.

Keywords: Federal Crop Insurance Program; Methodist church; insurance claims; insurance premiums; segregation academy; soy beans

01:05:59 - Agricultural changes

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Partial Transcript: You said that farms have gotten bigger in Sharkey county over the years, how else has agriculture changed since you started out?

Segment Synopsis: Corban describes how agriculture has changed over his lifetime, mentioning how farms have gotten bigger and become increasingly mechanized. He talks about how Roundup Ready cotton enabled farmers to spray herbicides directly over the plants which eliminated the need for hand labor. He describes how BT cotton changed bollworm control since the plant was genetically modified to produce its own insecticide. He also talks about the positive impact of the boll weevil eradication program which further decreased the need for pesticides. Corban describes how many people continued to grow cotton instead of switching to other crops because of tradition, soil type, and investment in machinery. He discusses how there were some African American farmers who he worked with at the beginning of his career, but he states that many of them have since lost their farms.

Keywords: Genetically modified organisms (GMOs); budworms; cotton gin; economy of scale; plant bugs; small farms

01:13:34 - Future of agriculture

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Partial Transcript: What do you think the future of agriculture in the Delta is?

Segment Synopsis: Corban states that agriculture is the only future for the Mississippi Delta since there is good soil, flat land, and a high water table. He says that people will continue to grow what they can make money on. He describes how agriculture no longer plays a large role in combating poverty in the region because it requires fewer employees who need to have high education levels in order to operate the equipment and technology. Corban discusses how agriculture is still the largest industry in the area despite the fact that most agricultural inputs like pesticides and fertilizers are produced outside the region.

Keywords: industrialization; inequality; irrigation; mechanization; unemployment