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Part of the Oral History of Agriculture in Edgecombe County Project. The audio starts at 00:01:40. Hassell Thigpen was born on his family’s peanut farm in Edgecombe County in 1915. He finished high school in 1932, during the depths of the Depression, when peanuts were only selling for one to one-and-a-quarter cent per pound. He stayed to work on the farm for three years, then went to State College for four years. His family had approximately 250 acres, which they farmed with the help of ten tenants. They did all the work by hand (mules) and also grew cotton, corn, oats, and hogs, and in later years cows. There was electricity in the house where he grew up, thanks to a Delco generator, but they had to pump water (for the house and the animals) by hand. They had “one little ramshackle automobile” (no truck or tractor) and went to town once a week for groceries. He describes their mule-drawn thrasher and their binder. Eventually they got a little tractor and a two-row cultivator. Thigpen got married when he was 25 and went into a shares partnership with father on the farm, expanding the property to 700 acres. One of Thigpen’s main topics in this interview is water management, specifically irrigation/drainage, including how men like Paul Warren, Austin Burnette, D. L. Hope, and John Mayo of the Farm Bureau developed and helped farmers with “channelizing”; the role of the WTA; exactly what “channelizing” consists of and how and why they do it; the establishment of the Conetoe Creek Watershed drainage district and problems it had; his own role in helping get NC Public Law 566 passed; the role of the Soil Conservation Service; the role of nitrate in irrigation issues; and weed control in the context of irrigation. He also talks a great deal about land grading and soil redistribution; tile drainage; the problems of irrigating a farm that has different types of soil in different places; older irrigation methods vs. newer ones; and pipes and bridges in fields. Thigpen says that the use of chemicals and technological advances in farm equipment mean that fewer workers are needed these days. He also believes that people don’t want to work as much they used to (he blames welfare). He thinks that in future only big farms will survive, since it’s so difficult for small farms to make it economically, but everything depends on government policies regarding exports. He has high praise for the Extension Service and the Soil Conservation Service, and mentions Rad Bailey, John N. Edwards, and Roland Wadsworth in particular. He thinks relations between farm people and town people are better than they used to be. Thigpen served on the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners for almost 25 years, and helped with industrial development, the establishment of a hospital, the founding of the Technical College at Tarboro, and overall town and county development. In 1971 the Thigpens were named “National Farm Family of the Year” by Progressive Farmer and the Extension Service. In recent years Thigpen has been involved in the Certified Seed program (an initiative of the North Carolina Crop Improvement Association), which he explains in detail. Thigpen has also spent time in Brazil and studied plant management there. Finally, he talks about “no-till planting,” and discusses ways to increase peanut crops (and, in lesser detail, soybean, cotton, and corn crops).





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