For South Carolina’s Kent Wannamaker, just getting started in the business of farming was a challenge.

When he earned his degree from Clemson University, Wannamaker came back to St. Matthews and joined the farming operation begun by his grandparents. Then, in the mid-1980s, his father and uncle decided to retire from farming and put their land in the Conservation Reserve Program.

Thanks in large part to 30 acres of land given to him by his grandmother, Lucile Wannamaker, he was able to venture into the hog business. “My grandmother was a legend in her time,” he says. “She had her own farming operation, and she recognized early on that I wanted to be involved with farming.

Over the next 10 years, he gradually increased his farrow-to-finish operation to 500 sows, one of the state’s largest swine operations. When hog contracting became popular and there were fewer markets for independently raised hogs, Wannamaker realized it was time to diversify.

Row crop farming seemed the logical fit, but it was hard to find good farmland to rent in 1995. He had to forward pay land rent — something not commonly done in the area — just to convince landowners to take a chance on renting him their land.

In subsequent years, Wannamaker renovated an old, rundown soybean processing facility and converted it to a peanut-buying facility. Later, he and a group of farmers purchased a cotton gin. (Ironically, the gin was a competitor to one that had been owned and sold by his family when times were lean in the cotton business.)

Farming in the hill country of Mississippi presents its own challenges, but Delta winner Coley Bailey Jr., has met those and more. Bailey has shown that you can combine efficiency and a conservation ethic to make cotton work in what many would consider not to be an ideal environment for cotton.

Bailey farms 3,350 acres of cotton with his father, Coley Bailey Sr., in Yalobusha and Grenada counties in central Mississippi. With farmland spread over two counties, reducing picking and handling time is more than just an idle objective.

During harvest, the Bailey’s work to keep picker dumps at a minute or less and to make sure equipment never sits idle for more than a few minutes. The attention to detail helps them to tarp up to 24 cotton modules a day with three pickers, three boll buggies and two module builders.

Because they, like most farmers in the hill country, have little irrigation, they try to make use of every drop of moisture that falls their way. Over the years, Bailey has used a combination of no-till farming, wheat cover crops and other conservation measures to conserve moisture.

Bailey is also taking steps to try to keep herbicide resistance at bay, adding different herbicides and herbicide modes of action to his weed management system. He and his father are also not opposed to using cold steel to remove weeds when necessary.