October 12, 2007

Jay's Cotton Country

When I stopped in Jay to walk around, the wind was blowin' briskly. I could easily see why Chiles was a "red man" from all the dirt blowing from the fields. I'm just surprised he didn't have a few cotton balls stuck to his shirt by the time he got to Jay, too.

For me, seeing Jay's old-time from-the-ground economy was a bit of a shock. I guess I wasn't expecting to see cotton in agriculture before Alabama. Gadsden, Leon, and Jefferson Counties in the middle of North Florida may be the Old Cotton Belt, but the towns of Jay, Century, and Baker are still the Cotton Belt. But that doesn't mean Escambia County or Santa Rosa County act like Cotton Counties. Today, they're as deeply Republican as Leon County is Democratic. More even.

An hour north on Route 4 and I was in another century. Lawton Chiles got his first taste of in-your-face Panhandle politickin' when he got to Jay...once the rain clouds cleared. I didn't see any livestock. They must have sold the hogs and cattle and replaced them with cotton since 1970:

I reached Jay about noon and after I had lunch it looked like it was starting to rain, so I went to the livestock auction. That worked out real well because there were some 200 farmers there. By the time I got there, the bottom had fallen out —a real cloudburst. It would have been impossible to walk the streets of Jay and visit with the people.

There was a break in the auction and I was able to get on the microphone and give them a little talk about my campaign, to tell them why I was walking and talking through the state of Florida. And I had a good opportunity not only to talk but to do some listening. I found out a lot about the problems of the row farmer.

The people are trying to raise wheat and soy beans up here and one them was telling me that of a loaf of bread, the farmer himself gets about two and a half cents; and with their costs for fertilizer, help and tractors and everything going up continually, they're really caught in a squeeze. They're particularly hurt by the high interest rates, having to borrow a lot of money every year to make their crops. They're very disturbed with the government buying wheat and corn in other parts of the country and holding it till they're ready to put theirs on the market. Then the government starts to sell their holdings and that breaks the market. It keeps them from being able to make a profit. They don't want to see government controls and yet they feel that is the way they're heading unless they can get together in some kind of co-op and do more to see that the farmer gets a decent price for his goods and that all the profits aren't taken up by the middleman and the people handling the end product.

They had a lot of good looking livestock — hogs and cattle. Prices for them seemed to be pretty good. The row farmer is the one who's really having a tough time of it. It's great to have my feet on the ground and to be with good Florida people, to learn from them and to tell them of my ideas. This day has certainly confirmed my belief that there is a crying need to bring more of our government back closer to home and to the people it is intended to serve.

No comments: