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Interview with Mike Ellis, September 8, 2016

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:14 - Childhood

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Partial Transcript: I was born in Memphis, Tennessee

Segment Synopsis: Mike Ellis talks about his childhood, during which he lived in many areas in Mississippi and spent some time in Tennessee. Ellis recalls that his father worked for Mississippi Power and Light while his mother was a school teacher. Ellis explains that the community Mississippi delta was very involved with agriculture. Ellis recalls his first cotton-related job as a cotton ginner, during which he conducted mechanical work on cotton gins. Ellis explains that the number and size of cotton pickers is something that has changed since his childhood.

Keywords: Delta State University; Memphis, Tennessee; Sumner, Mississippi; bayou

00:07:04 - Early farming initiatives

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Partial Transcript: Is that what all the bailing...

Segment Synopsis: Ellis talks about the efficiency of the John Deere round baler as a tool used in cotton gathering. Ellis explains that his wife's father who was a farmer was the person that initially got him interested in being a farmer. Ellis recalls that a drought in 1980 killed off his soybean cover crop, which eventually led him to grow rice for around two years, before he eventually sold his land for profit. Ellis states that he learned his farming techniques from his father-in-law, techniques which he then applied to his own farming initiatives. Ellis describes the land his father-and-law worked on, called Lost 40 Plantation.

Keywords: Lost 40 plantation; Mississippi State University; cotton baler

00:14:05 - Farming financial struggles / Staplcotn

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Partial Transcript: When that happens, then...

Segment Synopsis: Ellis talks about the financial struggles faced by farmers, as many farmers are not able to borrow money from banks due to low collateral. Ellis explains the economics behind the challenges faced by many farmers today. Ellis talks about his education experience at Delta State University as he studied business, social science, and biology before he got a masters degree in natural sciences. Ellis recalls that he came to work at Staplcotn after he sold his farm during the 1980's. Ellis explains that while at Staple Cotton Cooperative Association, he worked as a salesman and in marketing advisory. Ellis describes the motive behind the move made by Staplcotn to sell their chemical department.

Keywords: Delta State University; Mississippi State University; Staplcotn; commodities; finances; margin of profit

00:20:59 - Mississippi Valley Chemical Company

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Partial Transcript: And did Valley, I remember reading somewhere...

Segment Synopsis: Ellis talks about the creation of Valley Chemical Company, a farm supply distributor, that was created by farmers in their effort to heighten their purchasing power. Ellis explains how Valley Chemical company eventually needed an agronomist to study the effects of chemical pesticides and fertilizers on crops. Ellis explains the role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on crop management. Ellis talks about the of banning of DDT, as it was a chemical that had increased longevity in the natural environment.

Keywords: DDT; Environmental Protection Agency; Greenville, Mississippi; Mississippi Valley Chemical Company; Organo-phosphate; insecticide

00:26:41 - Synthetic Insecticides / Emergence of Sanders Co.

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Partial Transcript: How did you get in contact with farmers...

Segment Synopsis: Ellis talks about his experience working with famers as an agronomist for Valley Chemical Company. Ellis explains the benefits of organo-phosphate insecticides in relation to other insecticides. Ellis describes how, in the late 70's, synthetic pyrethroids took over the insecticide market. Ellis explains that the emergence of the new insecticide created competition between Valley Chemical Company and other synthetic pyrethroid distributors. Ellis talks about the emergence of Sanders Co. as a competitive pesticide distributor in Mississippi.

Keywords: 3-3; Sanders Co.; StapleCotn; Valley Chemical Company; malathion; organophosphates; synthetic pyrethroid

00:34:32 - Fertilizer distribution competition / Marketing techniques

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Partial Transcript: In terms of fertilizer, how could they...

Segment Synopsis: Ellis describes the competitive relationship of the fertilizing distributing sectors of Mississippi Valley Chemical Company and Sanders Co.. Ellis recalls the preference of some farmers towards certain brands of pesticides including Treflan. Ellis explains some of the marketing techniques utilized by pesticide distributors to maximize profits.

Keywords: Johnson Grass; Mississippi Valley Chemical Company; Sanders Co.; Treflan

00:41:39 - The Sanders Co. business model / Technological Impacts on agriculture

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Partial Transcript: Considering that lot of the company...

Segment Synopsis: Ellis talks about his experience working for the farm supply distributors, Sanders Co. Ellis explains that Sanders Co. had few personnel, and maintained a business model that ran on small marginal costs with careful business investments. Ellis recalls that the many of the profits for Sanders Co. during the 1980's-90's derived from the fertilizer industry. Ellis explains how the advent of GPS (Global Positioning System) led to more efficient scouting techniques and more effective soil-nutrients distribution.

Keywords: GPS (Global Positioning System); Sanders Co.; fertilizer

00:48:44 - Technological impacts on agriculture (cont.)

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Partial Transcript: And then, that data would be transferred...

Segment Synopsis: Ellis continues describing the utilization of technology in fertilizer distribution by Sander Co. Ellis recalls that cotton crops were the most profitable crop, as many of the fertilizer and pesticides manufacturers geared towards the control of cotton agriculture were already in competition.

Keywords: GPS (Global positioning system); variable rate technology

00:56:48 - The Delta & Pine Land Company buyout / Plant pest

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Partial Transcript: Delta and Pine got bought out by Monsanto, right?

Segment Synopsis: Ellis describes the effect of the buyout of Delta & Pine by Monsanto on farming communities, which he claims has benefited farmers due to the wide variety of resources owned by the larger company. Ellis talks about many of the plant threats to crops including Pigweed and Cocklebur. Ellis explains some of the challenges that volatility poses in pesticide manufacturing and distribution, as chemicals that are too volatile may "evaporate" before they acts as a pesticide.

Keywords: Amaranth; Banvel; Cocklebur; Delta & Pine Land Company of Mississippi; Monsanto

01:03:44 - Pesticide drift / Recent farming endeavors

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Partial Transcript: Has drift been a significant problem in the past...

Segment Synopsis: Ellis explains how the volatility of a pesticide can greatly effect the application process of the pesticide. Ellis describes how pesticide drifting (when a pesticide remains in the air instead of settling) can lead to lawsuits as drifting can result in negative impacts on surrounding agricultural plots and even residential gardens. Ellis talks about his recent farming experiences in rice, soybean, and corn, though he currently is not in the farming industry.

Keywords: 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (24-D); Mississippi Department of Agriculture; Roundup

01:10:11 - Reason behind Mississippi poverty

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Partial Transcript: Did you see, kinda the downturn happening?

Segment Synopsis: Ellis relates his decision to sell his farming equipment as a result of the declining value of commodities during the early 2010's. Ellis describes the poor economy of the Mississippi Delta as a result of the lack of job opportunities in the area. Ellis recalls that the reluctance of the Mississippi delta region farmers to capitalize on manufacturing, along with the rise of technology was what has led to unemployment in Mississippi. Ellis explains that unemployment has led to increased entitlement programs for many families in the Mississippi delta region.

Keywords: Agricultural Science; Mississippi State University

01:16:53 - Webb, Mississippi demographic changes

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Partial Transcript: Have you seen many changes in Tallahatchie County...

Segment Synopsis: Ellis explains that the population makeup of Webb, Mississippi has significantly changed, as sharecroppers (many of them African American) have moved into the city due to the lack of jobs in the surrounding delta region. Ellis explains that many younger generations have also fled due to the lack of jobs. Ellis talks about the typical farming demographic in the delta region of Mississippi. Ellis expands on how technologies such as the round-bale cotton picker has decreased the need for employees.

Keywords: Sumner, Mississippi; Tallahatchie County, Mississippi; Webb, Mississippi; black farmers; round-bale cotton picker; sharecropper

01:22:30 - Economy of Webb, Mississippi / Concluding thoughts

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Partial Transcript: I don't see many good things happening to Webb in the future...

Segment Synopsis: Ellis talks about his belief that the economy of Webb, Mississippi will not recover, as the fleeing populations have resulted in a decreased tax base for the city, and increased taxes for farmers owning land. Ellis explains that Mississippi is in need of government assistance for infrastructure. Ellis talks about the cultural aspects of Mississippi as a music center and as the setting for one of the major events that inspired civil rights movements, the murder of Emmett Till. Ellis talks about his belief that race relations have significantly improved in the delta over time.

Keywords: Delta region, Mississippi; Emmett Till; Tallahatchie County, Mississippi; Webb, Mississippi