The Mid-South Farm & Gin Show, celebrating the past, present, and future of area agriculture.
photograph by Fábio Salles | Dreamstime
The Southern Cotton Ginners Association (SCGA) is a nonprofit organization, founded in 1967, which promotes the crop’s industry through education, science, civic engagement, and, of course, commercial and business endeavors. The SCGA is made up of the state cotton ginners associations from Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana. It’s headquartered in downtown Memphis.
Tim Price leads the organization. He became executive vice president in 2003. From Louisiana, Price has lived far and wide accumulating experience in the agriculture industry, including in New Orleans, Texas, and Chicago. Price is particularly versed in agricultural legislation, economics, international policy, and marketing. He previously served overseeing governmental affairs and commodities departments for the Illinois Farm Bureau, Indiana Farm Bureau, and American Farm Bureau Federation.
The tent-pole annual event of the SCGA is the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show, cosponsored by the Delta Farm Press. A decades-old celebration, the show will celebrate its 62nd annual incarnation February 28 through March 1, 2014, at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.
The Mid-South Farm & Gin Show features hundreds of exhibitors showcasing the newest in technology to farmers and associated businesspeople and educational seminars led by experts from the cotton, rice, and grain industries. “These sessions go beyond the basic market outlook to provide marketing strategies and technology to help farms develop the skills they need to meet new and emerging challenges,” Price says.
Seminars at the 2013 show included an outlook for U.S. and world cotton by Joe Nicosia, head of cotton for Louis Dreyfus Commodities; an in-depth look at irrigation technology; and a discussion about how rice farmers can survive and prosper despite market volatility. About 20,000 people attend every year, and the average attendee farms 1,700 acres of cotton, soybeans, rice, corn, or wheat.
The changing nature of agriculture is reflected and, Price argues, enhanced by the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show. “How has an industry that’s so traditional maintained its vitality and its growth?” he asks. “The Mid-South Farm & Gin show does it; what it exhibits informs farmers what is happening in the industry. It is how you make sure the farmers are exposed to the latest in technology.”
Among the hundreds of exhibitors are titans of industry, such as Monsanto and DuPont; exporter/domestic suppliers with a huge Mid-South and international presence, such as Bunge North America; farm-equipment manufacturers such as The KBH Corporation; to scientific entrepreneurial outfits like AgXplore (fertilizer and micronutrients); and irrigation companies such as DuraPipe and Delta Irrigation.
“We engage companies that are diverse,” Price says. “They come to Memphis once a year to say, this is our linkage to the agriculture industry. They bring new products, services, and ideas they can exhibit at the show. Often, the show is the first time they want a product featured.
“Farms and others are ready for another year, and because the technology is changing so fast, they are interested in seeing what’s new at this year’s show,” he continues. “We’ll definitely have the latest available technology, so we are encouraging all to attend for a first look at what’s available to help produce and market their crops.”
The nature of the show lends itself to interactive engagement between the companies making products and equipment and the farmers who will use them. “There is an agribusiness component that’s phenomenal,” Price says. “Exhibitors listen to attendees and find out what is needed on the farm, then the company will come back to the show the next year with a solution for the problem. They listen to their customers. It’s a high-quality business show.”
In a sense, the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show is a microcosm of agriculture at large, encompassing the breadth and scope of the industry. “The show is a prism that looks at the links, direct and indirect, at all the things that make agriculture the size and complexity it is,” Price says. The show considers the importance of public policy in China on the Delta cotton grower, the changing traditions of family and corporate farming, the many technologies that lead to a more efficient farm and plant, and the food-service and other end uses of the product.
Organizers of the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show make an effort as well to make the event family-friendly. “The show is directed toward the decision-maker who will be helped by coming to this event, and to his immediate family,” Price says. “If I don’t have the wife and kids come on Saturday, dad is not going to come, and I want dad there.”
Price puts on his civic hat when planning the show, too. He thinks of the economic impact the show can have on Memphis, and he pitches that exhibitors come a few days early or stay a few days after the show and hold regional sales meetings or quarterly executive meetings, especially if the employees are all going to be in town for the show anyway. “Let us help you get a meeting place,” Price says and indicates that there are many spin-off business meetings in the days around the show.
“We’re not a nostalgia show, but we honor traditions,” he says. Among those traditions are the family farm and the legacy of farm-life on our culture. “Huge numbers of people in Memphis are only two generations from the farm,” Price says. “A lot of people are linked to agriculture who aren’t food producers.” The show celebrates as well the rich international diversity in Mid-South farming. “The immigrant story,” as Price puts it, is hugely important to this region’s agriculture.
The Mid-South Farm & Gin Show points to the future, too, in more theoretical ways, particularly as it began bestowing the A.L. Vandergriff Pioneer Award in 2013. “We want to encourage people toward innovation and investment,” Price says. The award is named after a twentieth-century inventor who revolutionized the cotton gin. He was named one of the “Titans of the Cotton Ginning Industry, right behind Eli Whitney,” by Cotton Grower magazine.
“Agriculture is high-tech and touches upon issues such as globalization, food safety, efficiencies, and civic outreach,” Price says. “Outreach links what we do with what we produce. We have such a productive food system.”
Because of American agricultural efficiencies, tops in the world, farmers here can make life better for people in far-distant countries and living situations. “We try to be a productive segment of society,” Price says. “We can do outreach you don’t normally think about. A group might send meals [to the needy] and not think of the farmer. But it’s a farmer’s productivity that allows us to do it in a way that’s economically efficient. You’re able to take a raw product, combine it in a balanced meal with a packet of minerals and vitamins, package it, and send it anywhere in the world for 25 cents a meal.”
The SCGA gives out its annual Ginner of the Year Award at the exhibition, too. The 2012 recipient, Harry Flowers of Mattson, Mississippi (a community just south of Clarksdale on Highway 49, in the heart of the north Mississippi Delta), operates his gin six days a week, with three eight-hour shifts. In 2012, Mattson Gin ginned 50,000 bales of cotton, its second-best year in its six-decade history. According to the award announcement, “Flowers is founder of Care Station, where he voluntarily delivers meals weekly; he is a contributor to Habitat for Humanity, participates in Teach for America, serves on the board of St. George’s Episcopal Day School and on the board for Lee Academy. He is involved in the Boy Scouts of America-Chickasaw Council and serves on the executive committee of the Clarksdale First National Bank and served on the board of Union Planters.
“Flowers grew up in the ginning business, where he began working with his Uncle Roy at a very young age. He is the third generation of Flowers to live in Mattson. Two of his sons, Scott and Graydon, are now farming and ginning with him. The fifth generation, his grandchildren, are growing up in Mattson now. And the population of Mattson is made up of Flowers and the homes of many Mattson gin employees.”
The vignette is Mid-South agriculture: a family, a town, a business providing livelihoods and rooted in giving back to the community. Above all, it’s making a product worth being proud of, grown right here but with uses and an impact that can be felt as far away as China, as far into the past as your ancestors, and as far into the future as your grandchildren’s grandchildren. Running through it, a narrator and document of its changes and constancy, the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show.