They told Mark Rogers it wouldn’t work — that cotton grown behind calves wouldn’t perform well because the animals would pack the ground so much that the cotton would suffer.

But, Rogers tried it anyhow and has proved the naysayers wrong. Not only is he growing strip-till cotton on fields where calves have wintered on ryegrass, yields on those fields are consistently better than for his conventional cotton.

Cotton and calves are not the route Rogers, who also grows peanuts with his father, Mitchell, near Collins in south central Mississippi, had in mind when he went to Mississippi State University to study poultry science, with the idea of going into the chicken business.

“There’s a lot of poultry in this part of the state,” he says, “and a lot of people have done well in that business. But, when I got my poultry science degree in 1996, I re-examined the situation.

“The investment cost is heavy — it can easily run a million dollars — and you’re stuck with those chicken houses for the long term in order to recoup that investment. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to be tied down to that kind of commitment, either financially or in terms of years.

“So, I came back here and farmed with my father, also growing some cotton on my own, until I figured out what I wanted to do.

“ I had grown up in farming. My father has farmed here since the 1960s, and my grandfather and great-grandfather before him.

“My father grew cotton and raised cattle for many years, but when the gin closed in 1976 and everybody around here got out of cotton, he sold his equipment and got out, too, and put a lot of the land in pastures and timber. In 1982, when cattle prices dropped, he got out of cattle, too.”

In 1989, a gin opened in Rankin County, about 75 miles away, and he started gradually getting back into cotton. In 1993, he bought a module builder and two 2-row pickers, and since then has steadily increased cotton acres. “We bought a 4-row picker in 1997 and would like to get a 6-row machine, but our terraces and everything are set up for 4-row.

“We’re the only cotton farmers in this county and our operation is spread out over a 16-mile radius. Our largest field is 76 acres, but most average 20 acres to 30 acres. The nearest gin now is exactly 103 miles from our shop, Gaddis & McLaurin Gin at Bolton, Miss.”

It was the challenge of coming up with something to keep farm labor busy during the winter that led Mark to his present operation.

“I fenced in some of the land, planted it in ryegrass, bought some calves, let them graze through the winter, and sold them in the spring. That turned out pretty well.