Loading the player...
Part of the Oral History of Agriculture in Edgecombe County Project. The audio on track 2 ends at 00:26:44. Billy Manning, who lives in Mildred, near Tarboro, was born during the Depression to a family that lived on a small farm and over the years rented other modest-sized farms that they worked with the help of tenants. In his boyhood the field work was done using mules rather than machinery. Manning’s main childhood chores involved helping look after the mules, hogs, and cows. He gradually went into partnership with his father, and at their height they farmed about 800 acres with 14 tenant families and three regular hourly employees. Manning graduated from Conetoe High School in 1942, and served for two years in the Navy. He then went to State College and graduated in 1949 with a degree in animal husbandry. His first job was overseeing the swine operation at Caligonia Prison Farm. Then he went to work with the state Extension Service in Northhampton County. In 1952 he returned to full-time work on his and his father’s farms. They grew tobacco, peanuts, cotton, corn, and soybeans. Manning was more interested in livestock than his father was, so he expanded that side of the business considerably. Manning explains in some detail the processes involved in raising, harvesting, curing, and marketing tobacco; raising, processing, and selling peanuts; and the same for cotton. He describes major innovations in farming, including the mechanized tobacco harvester; the advent of tractors; the corn combine; and the peanut combine. He says the Extension Service has always been a good source of updated information, and where he has farmed they’ve helped solve drainage problems. He talks about the financial ups and downs of farming over the years, with such factors as dry weather, and how overproduction in good times have driven prices down. Innovations in technology have made for the need of less help, and tenant farmers have gradually been phased out. In 1978 Manning stopped growing tobacco altogether and rented out his land instead to other tobacco growers. He says he had a good time growing up. He and his friends would get together riding their horses (or in Manning’s case a pony), and he often visited relatives on their farm near Bethel by standing by the railroad tracks and simply flagging down the train as it came by. He doesn’t remember a time when his family didn’t have electricity in the house. When Highway 64 was being widened his mother took in lodgers for two years and used the money to install an indoor bathroom. Manning’s father also owned a country store, and eventually handed over all farm operations to Manning and worked in the store instead. He mentions several major innovations in farming technique over his years as an independent farmer: bulk-buying and bulk-spreading of fertilizer; how corn is cultivated; the advent of chemicals for weed control; and his getting a pickup truck. He also explains in some detail the two-price system for peanuts. He thinks the phasing-out of tenancy and the opening of factory work opportunities in Tarboro (begun by the Long Manufacturing Company) accounts for the decrease in African American farmers in the area. He says the whereas most farms used to be small, there are now fewer but much bigger farms. He also talks about new things some of his neighbors are turning to, such as asparagus cultivation, “pick you own” vegetable growing, raising tomatoes in greenhouses, raising Christmas trees, raising primroses for medical use, and raising more broiler chickens. He feels that townspeople respect country people more now than they used to. He himself has had good community involvement, serving on the Peanut Growers Cooperative Marketing Association Board, the Edge-Pitt Peanut Cooperative Marketing Warehouse project, the local FCX Advisory Board, and the Board of Directors of the Federal Land Bank Association in Tarboro. He thinks farming is still a good way of life for people who are willing to work hard.