For more than a century before World War II, Mississippi’s economy was dominated by agriculture, especially cotton. The intense hand labor required in the cotton fields was supplied before the Civil War by slaves and afterward by sharecroppers and tenant farmers. Initially, most sharecroppers were black, but by the Great Depression most were whites who had lost their small landholdings as cotton prices declined. Tenancy kept all but the planters and merchants in perpetual poverty and ignorance.
After World War II Mississippi’s agricultural economy underwent a revolution driven by mechanization, crop diversification, and consolidation. Tractors appeared on some large plantations in the 1920s, but after World War II federal crop subsidies and high commodity prices provided money for rapid and complete mechanization. Tractors, mechanical cotton pickers, and combines almost eliminated field labor. The introduction of herbicides, defoliants, and pesticides completed the revolution. Plantations that had provided livelihoods for dozens of tenant families quickly became completely mechanized and today employ only a few machine operators. As the new methods took hold, tenants were dispossessed and farms grew larger and more centralized. In 1900, 75 percent of all Mississippians made their livings on farms. In contrast, by 1990 only 2.7 percent of Mississippi’s labor force worked on farms.
Within Mississippi’s agricultural economy, cotton was challenged by such products as soybeans, cattle, rice, poultry, and catfish. While cotton still produces more money than any other single Mississippi crop, it no longer dominates the agricultural economy. Soybeans, rice, poultry, and catfish together produce more than twice as much farm income as cotton, and the value of poultry alone almost equals that of cotton. "Mississippi" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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