Cousins Clark Carter and Gip Carter of Rolling Fork are the first to admit they don’t always agree on everything.
“Two opinions are better than one – as long as Gip agrees with me,” Clark Carter says with a laugh.
But despite their different opinions, the two cousins manage to operate a successful row crop farm in Sharkey County, where the Carter family has been making a living in agriculture since the early 1900s.
“Our grandfather worked for a logging operation and then moved here, bought a few hundred acres and started farming,” Gip Carter says. “Over the years, our farm has grown to 6,500 acres. We grow soybeans, cotton, corn, and sometimes rice and winter wheat.”
Gip and Clark handle the day-to-day operations on the family farm, along with Clark’s brother-in-law, John Abney.
“I love the lifestyle of farming – we’re out working the land, and no two days are ever the same,” Clark says. “Every day brings a new challenge. Gip and I share responsibilities and depend on each other, which makes it great.”
Both men remember working on the family farm as young boys, helping with irrigation and chopping weeds in the soybean and cotton fields. With new technologies in the agriculture industry, much has changed since then.
“When I was a kid, my dad farmed using mules, and later tractors,” Gip recalls. “We’ve adapted to newer technologies pretty quickly. I remember how we used to go out and flag airplanes for each application in the summer. Then they came out with an automatic flagger guided by a GPS, which saved us a lot of labor.”
The Carters also adopted auto-steer technology, which allows tractors and sprayers to operate precisely with the press of a button.
Advancements in irrigation have come a long way, as well. In the past, irrigation season added an increased amount of stress to the family operation. After the strenuous work of rolling poly pipe was complete, punching properly sized holes was a guessing game. This often led to pipes busting, which not only cost time and money, but also made a wasteful, muddy mess. Today, the Carters use irrigation scheduling tools that include soil moisture sensors and well timers. These tools provide the farm accurate data and timing, to allow for more efficient irrigation practices. Based on history, the Carters have now been able to cut their groundwater usage to nearly half.
See more: How Mississippi Farmers Care for Cattle
Despite advances in technology that make farming faster and more efficient, there are always challenges. Unstable commodity prices and finding reliable labor are two of them. The Carter family has started hiring South African H-2A workers to fill the labor gap. The federal government’s H-2A program grants foreign nationals short-term visas to provide labor during the growing season.
Flood control presents another difficult challenge. In 2019, the Carter farm suffered a six-month flood. The backwater crested at 98.5 feet in the south Mississippi Delta, leaving the Carter farm 50% flooded.
“It was unbelievable. We’ve never experienced a flood of this magnitude,” Clark says.
Now 60 and 65, respectively, Clark and Gip say they have no immediate plans for retirement. Both their fathers, James Richard “Jimmie Dick” Carter and Laurence Carter, died in 2019, but they left a legacy of hard work and familial unity the cousins won’t forget.
“We are hopeful the younger generation will step in and continue to run the operation,” Gip says.