Randy Crowe still has vivid memories of growing cotton in the days when the boll weevil ran rampant in the fields he and his father, Dwight, farmed near Oxford in north Mississippi.

“For a couple of years before the eradication effort got under way,” he says, “farmers checked their own pheromone traps. We had two or three traps per acre, and when we’d go to inspect them they would be jam-packed with weevils, with more crawling all over the outside trying to get in.

“It was like an old horror movie,” he says. “There were so many weevils in the traps we couldn’t hope to count them all. The Mississippi State University specialists came up with a formula to get numbers by calculating the volume of the mass of weevils in a trap. And we were emptying traps twice a week.

“When Dad and I were farming together, we had two John Deere 600 Hi Cycle sprayers, and when weevils would hatch out we’d spray four days a week for six weeks, sometimes eight to 10 weeks, to try and break the life cycle. We practically lived on those sprayers — it was long, exhausting work, fighting just that one insect. My back hurts just thinking about it!

“We were spending $3 per acre per week battling weevils, and that was a good chunk of money with cotton prices as they were. By having no paid labor, we were able to just hold on by the skin of our teeth economically. Every penny we made went back into the farm. My parents made sacrifices and I made sacrifices for the sake of the family business. A lot of years, it was nip and tuck just to survive.

“The eradication program has been a miracle for cotton farmers, and everyone who supported it is due a big vote of thanks. The last weevil we had on any of our cropland was in 2006.

“The two most important things that have happened in my farming career have been boll weevil eradication and no-till. Add in Roundup Ready and Bt technologies, and you’re talking a major revolution in cotton production. Without these changes, I’m not sure I would still be farming today. They’ve certainly been the salvation of a lot of farmers, particularly in the hills.”

Randy grew up in a farming family. The “home place” in the Clear Creek community where his grandmother was born has been in the family since the 1800s.

“My grandparents had five children, four boys and a girl,” he says. “Dad was the youngest. He and a brother, Gayle farmed together for years, then began farming separately in 1981.

“I helped Dad on the farm while in high school at Oxford and while attending Northwest Mississippi Community College. After I finished there, I came back and farmed with him full time. He had heart bypass surgery several years ago, but continued light duty for a couple of years.

“When he retired, I took over the farm. He’s 83 now, but he still comes around every day, helps with getting parts and running errands, and does work around the shop. I have one helper and hire other labor at busy times.