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Kevin Kemp, who’d grown up a farm boy in the rolling hills of east central Mississippi parked all his equipment after a freak hailstorm 20 years and started a business that he ran for six years. But during all that time, the urge to farm never went away.
"While I was out of farming, I was the most miserable man you ever saw. I came home one day and told Connie, ‘I’m going to start farming again. It’s the only work I really like to do. If it doesn’t work out, at least I can say I tried. I hope you’ll stay with me, but ...’”
12 flocks a year
“I’ll run 12 flocks a year through my houses, which takes 1.3 million to 1.5 million pounds of feed per flock. We grow a flock for 42 days to 45 days, after which they go to the Tyson plant for processing.
“There’s a lot of work the first week or so until the chicks get to growing. With all the new equipment and automated procedures now, poultry production isn’t as much work as it was 20 years ago, but it’s still a 7-days-a-week job. There’s still always the stress of knowing you’ve got all those birds depending on you for care, and that you’ve got to do a lot of things just right to comply with your contract.
“I’m fortunate to have two really good managers for the poultry houses, and knowing I could count on them for day-to-day operations allowed me the opportunity to begin easing back into row crops.
“My part-time helper on the row crops is an excellent mechanic, so we pulled some of my old equipment out of the bushes, cleaned it up, reworked it and I started growing some soybeans. My only new equipment purchase was a no-till grain drill.”
But, all the time he was growing soybeans, cotton stayed in the back of his mind.
Now, on a gray late summer morning with rain clouds threatening, Kevin and Connie sit on their patio, looking out across a field of cotton that’s thriving just 50 yards down the hill, and he reflects with a wry smile that it was — to put it somewhat delicately — chicken poop, tons and tons of chicken poop, that helped bring him full circle back to growing the cotton that was his first love.
“Fertilizer prices were sky high, and I had all that poultry litter. I figured with a plentiful supply of free fertilizer from the chicken houses, cotton prices that were looking better and better, improved varieties, and no-till production, it just might work.
“My father, who died two years ago, grew cotton all his life — at one time he and my brother, Craig, had as much as 1,000 acres scattered all over this county. He was a pioneer of no-till cotton in this area and really believed in it. I guess his love for the crop rubbed off on me; I’d rather grow it than anything else. I thought long and hard about getting back into it, but I just had to give it a try.”