Something unique in the Bailey operation took two years of working with environmental agencies and the Abitibi Bowater paper mill at Grenada, Miss. Under an agreement with the paper mill, the farm takes ash from the paper production process and applies it to their farmland. It provides all of the farm’s fertility needs, except nitrogen.

“It has been a win/win situation for the paper mill and for us, and it really has been a blessing in weathering high fertilizer prices,” Coley Jr. says.

“We had to get the Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency to come in and test soils and do other testing. The paperwork took two years, but 7,500 tons of ash per year that was just going into landfills is now providing fertility for our crops.”

Their cotton is scouted three times a week, which is a bit unusual, Coley Jr. says, but if closer checking of the crop eliminates one or two sprays a season, it’s worth it. “Plus, I like to know what’s going on — I want to know if what we’re spraying is working.”

Joe Worthy, of Clarksdale, Miss., does aerial application work for the Baileys, and their consultant, Ty Edwards, is also gin manager at Yalobusha Gin, where they gin their cotton. They market their crop through Staplcotn.

During the season, they get valuable advice and service from Extension Agents Steve Winters in Grenada County, and Brent Gray in Yalobusha County, Bill Bailey from Crop Production Services in Grenada and their local John Deere dealer, Wade Equipment in Grenada.

Winters, Extension director for Grenada County, has known the Baileys through 22 cotton growing seasons. “They have a cutting edge type of operation,” he says. “If a new technology comes along and they think it might cut costs or increase yields, they’re going to give it a try.”

All of the Baileys’ full-time work crew push hard to keep the pickers turning, too. Billy Earl Jennings, 62, started working for the Baileys in 1976; James Marion, 67, and Darold Marion, 40, in 1995; and Gwenn Topps, 47, this season.

“They take the lead on getting equipment ready,” Coley Jr. says. “They’ve been with us for a long time, and I can depend on them. When we had to plant our crop in six days last spring, they were here at 5:30 a.m., filling up machinery with diesel and seed so we could start running at 6 a.m. We ran until dark.”

The Baileys take care of their workers, too. Each module builder is equipped with a closed, air-conditioned cab.

“We don’t work on Sundays,” Coley Jr. says. “But, we’re always able to get it all done. When you work 15 hours a day during the week, you need to have some rest on Sunday.”

In the coming season, the Baileys will replace their three 6-row basket pickers with two 6-row module pickers, which should reduce seasonal labor needs and make harvest move even faster.

“I think we can pick cotton with a basket picker as efficiently as anybody I know,” Coley Jr. says. “In good cotton, we can tarp a module every 20 minutes, and build 24 modules a day.”

He uses module size to regulate the influence of yield fluctuation on picking efficiency. As yields increase, the size of a finished module may decrease to accommodate the increased number of boll buggy dumps.

“Our KBH builders with extended rails are capable of building 18-19 bale modules every time,” he says. “We average 16 bales.

“If we had more time, we could keep packing, but the gin doesn’t charge me to come get the modules, so our main goal is to keep the picker going so it doesn’t have to wait on a buggy. We can do that up to about 1,200-pound cotton. If I get much over 1,200 pound cotton, we have to go to 13-bale or 14-bale modules — but, that’s a good problem to have.”

Coley Bailey, Sr., says young farmers like his son face more challenges than previous generations.

“My father managed people, I managed machines, and my son manages technology. But, managing technology doesn’t relieve him from the obligation of managing machines and people too.”

Coley, Jr.’s ability to network is perhaps the best tool he has for facing today’s challenges, his father says.

“He’s a great networker. There is a network of young farmers around who are more willing to share information and ideas than in my generation. He and his wife, Jody, who is a strong part of his partnership, are very attuned to that — more so than I ever was.”

No matter what the yield, time of season or field activity, everyone on the Bailey farming operation is aware of the one rule that guides all activity on the farm — making those pickers turn around.

It’s a philosophy that has served them well.

Coley Jr. has served as chairman of Farm Bureau’s Cotton Committee for four years, and is president of Yalobusha County Farm Bureau. He and Jody have two children, a son, Cole, and a daughter, Mackenzie. Jody, who grew up on a cattle farm, works on the Mississippi Farm Bureau Women’s Committee.