What is in this article?:
- Ray Makamson draws from a number of assets to make this approach work — 38 years of cotton-producing experience, a unique relationship with his employees, his trust in God and a love of farming.
- His conservation efforts mesh perfectly with his forward-looking style.
- Drop pipes and other water control structures dot the farm. Most of the water is directed to run off into the Yazoo River or Roebuck Lake. He has helped transform the lake into fishing spot for his children and grandchildren, and he also manages intensely for wildlife, deer and waterfowl.
- Ray started land forming in the late 1970s, primarily to improve drainage on the farm.
- He has also worked hard to eliminate open ditches on the farm. Instead, water is moved to fields through underground pipes to minimize evaporation and erosion.
It’s harvest time on Ray Makamson Farms, and things are going well: Three cotton pickers are running full speed, modules are quickly forming along the turn rows, and there’s nary a drop of rain in the forecast.
Makamson, however, is busy dividing his thoughts between the current field activity and the next one. Call it a forward-looking management style.
When it’s planting time, for example, he is usually focusing on what he needs to do to make harvest and irrigation go smoothly. At harvest, he’s figuring out what he wants to plant in the spring, and where he wants to plant it.
If something goes wrong during the season, he makes a mental note of it, and during the winter, he revises plans and procedures to avoid making that mistake again.
Makamson, the 2011 Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award winner from the Delta states, draws from a number of assets to make this approach work — 38 years of cotton-producing experience, a unique relationship with his employees, his trust in God and a love of farming.
Ray, his farm manager, John Harris, and eight full-time employees grow 3,050 acres of cotton and 700 acres of soybeans near Itta Bena, Miss. His daughter, Emily Gnemi, also helps with bookkeeping for the farm. Bruce Pittman is his consultant.
The Makamsons are part of a rich history of farming in the region. Ray’s grandfather, Loyce, sharecropped in the area, trapped and hunted for a living and raised seven children. He soon discovered that he had another talent, buying and trading land, which laid the groundwork for his five sons, including Ray’s father, Lamar, to become farmers.
Ray says he will never forget the afternoon, soon after he started farming, when his grandfather, Loyce, gave him a backhanded compliment that firmly established his status as a farmer and as a Makamson.
“He flagged me down on the road — something he never did; he never stopped just to talk. I thought I was in trouble. He said, ‘I want to tell you something. I want to tell you I’m proud of you. I just came from my accountant, and he told me that there are now three generations of Makamsons who have tax problems. So, I’m really proud of you. Then he rolled up his window and took off. It was worth a million dollars for him to tell me that.”
Ray applies the same sort of cajoling attention to his employees, continually encouraging and challenging his eight farm hands, who are all from the Greenwood, Miss., area. His calm, but firm demeanor has won their respect and has helped to foster in them a sense of pride in the operation.
“I try to treat them like I want to be treated. But they need to know what I expect of them.”
Pete Doyle, 60, is a great example of how that respect was earned. One day, Makamson was taking Doyle home after work, and “Pete told me he’d never had a birthday party. ‘Sure wish I could have me one,’ he said. So every year, when we get through picking cotton, we have a birthday party for Pete. Even though we found out last year that his birthday is in May, he told us we still need to have a birthday party when we get through picking cotton — so, now he has two.”