Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with John E. Culp, May 14, 2018

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Being hired at TVA

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Partial Transcript: The following is an oral history interview conducted as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority Retirees Association Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Culp discusses how he was hired at the TVA. Culp's background in agriculture and communications is detailed.

Keywords: Auburn Cooperative Extension; Communications; Communications Specialist; Interviews; Magazines; News editors; Phone calls; Radios; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

Subjects: Agriculture; Auburn University; Mount Morris (Ill.); Muscle Shoals (Ala.); Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority

GPS: Muscle Shoals (Ala.)
Map Coordinates: 34.750833, -87.650278
00:02:46 - First job at TVA

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Partial Transcript: --Uh--what did you begin working on? What was your first assignment?

Segment Synopsis: Culp describes his first job at the TVA, which was to create training manuals and film strips for farmers, to teach them how to utilize different types of fertilizers.

Keywords: Articles; Communications; Communications specialists; Fertilizer; Fertilizer dealers; Film strips; Salesmen; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); Training manuals

Subjects: Editing; Farmers; Fertilizer industry; Fertilizers; Promotions; Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority; Training

00:04:02 - Historical context of TVA fertilizer production

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Partial Transcript: In the early phases of World War I, a German submarine surfaced in New York Harbor.

Segment Synopsis: Culp provides the history of how TVA became involved in fertilizer production, which has its origins in a World War I fertilizer shortage.

Keywords: Agricultural Development; Charters; Franklin D. Roosevelt; George Norris; German submarine; Henry Ford; Idle; Improving; Investment; Munitions; Nitrate; Nitrate complex; Nitrate facilities; Nitrate fertilizers; Offer; Public money; Senators; TVA Act of 1933; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); Test; U.S. Department of War; Wilson Dam (Tenn.); Withdrew; World War I

Subjects: Agriculture; Alabama; Chile; Farmers; Fertilizers; Germany; History; Money; Muscle Shoals (Ala.); Nebraska; New York Harbor (N.Y. and N.J.); Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority; World War, 1914-1918

GPS: Muscle Shoals (Ala.)
Map Coordinates: 34.750833, -87.650278
00:07:03 - TVA and the Great Depression

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Partial Transcript: Yep, actually you go back before the Depression, Tennessee Valley was the poorest region in the country.

Segment Synopsis: Culp briefly talks of the TVA and its early years and programs during the Great Depression.

Keywords: Charter; Farming methods; Great Depression; Income level; Mission; TVA Act of 1933; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); Universities and institutions

Subjects: Agriculture; Depressions--1929; Economic development; Farmers; National income; Poverty; Soil erosion; Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority

00:07:54 - Test demonstration farms

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Partial Transcript: When I came on in '63, there was a test demonstration program that was being conducted across the Tennessee Valley.

Segment Synopsis: Culp explains what the test demonstration farms program was and their purpose. Culp's role in the program is considered.

Keywords: Adoptions; Agricultural development; Ammonia nitrate; Cooperative extension agents; Demonstration farms; Farming techniques; Farmland; Fertilizer practices; Focus; Motto; Productive; Products; Results; Soil; Struggle; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); Terrace associations; Tillable land; Uncomfortable

Subjects: Agriculture; Change; Clover; Confidence; Corn; Cost effectiveness; Crops; Economic development; Erosion; Farmers; Farms; Fertilizers; Land-Grant University Cooperating Extension Service; Phosphate industry; Soil fertility; Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority; Tours

00:10:52 - Fertilizer program

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Partial Transcript: Now, you and--uh--the--uh--test demonstration program was--I--I assume covered all of the--uh--the, the Tennessee Valley Region.

Segment Synopsis: Culp illustrates TVA's fertilizer creation program and the effects this endeavor had upon the fertilizer industry and farmers.

Keywords: Accepted; Communications; Crop production; Demonstration farms; Erosion control; Fertilizer Development Center; Fertilizer dealers; Field men; Help; High-analysis fertilizers; Industry; Limited quantities; Manufacturing techniques; Nationwide; New; No incentive; Phased out; Plowing fields; Production; Products; Results; Studies; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); Territories; Tours

Subjects: Agriculture; California; Cooperation; Corn; Cotton; Economic development; Economists; Employees; Farmers; Farms; Fertilizer industry; Fertilizers; Florida; History; Land-Grant University Cooperating Extension Service; Marketing; Muscle Shoals (Ala.); Nebraska; Plant nutrients; Records; Soils; Staff; States; Technology; Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority; Travel

GPS: Muscle Shoals (Ala.)
Map Coordinates: 34.750833, -87.650278
00:17:38 - Memories of fertilizer program

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Partial Transcript: I wanna ask you whether you remember any--uh--interesting stories.

Segment Synopsis: Culp shares some of his most vivid memories of working in the Demonstration Farms Program. Culp recalls his trip to Peru and the reactions of the people of Chimbote, Peru to the TVA's arrival.

Keywords: Andes Mountains; Demonstration farms; Drivers; Elders; Food production; Interesting; International Development Program; Interpreters; Interview; Meeting place; National programs; Picture; Praying; Publication; Reliable; TVA fertilizers; Talking; Team assignments; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); Trucks; U.S. Department of State

Subjects: Agriculture; Career; Chimbote (Peru); Church; Communities; Economic development; Farmers; Federal government; Fertilizer industry; Fertilizers; Haiti; Infrastructure; Irrigation; Mosquitoes; Pacific Ocean; Peru; Religious; Reputation; Rivers; Sleep; South America; Specialists; Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority; Travel

GPS: Chimbote (Peru)
Map Coordinates: -9.074544, -78.593572
00:22:10 - International training programs for agriculture

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Partial Transcript: TVA started--uh--working with the department--Agency for International Development to conduct training programs--international training programs for agriculture experts around the world.

Segment Synopsis: Culp reflects upon his work in creating a training program for USAID, in which government representatives from developing countries come and learn how to implement agricultural programs to encourage better agricultural practices. Problem solving training exercises that Culp assisted in creating are detailed.

Keywords: "New Devland"; Agenda; Agricultural development; Applied learning; Banquet; Comments; Creators; Director of Division of Agriculture; Expertise; Extension agents; Fake country; Feedbacks; Interpreters; Language barriers; Multi-national; Outline; Presentations; Reports; Results; Secretaries of Agriculture; Solutions; Songs; Technical staff; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); Touching; Trainees; Training programs; U.S. Department of State; Universities

Subjects: Africa; Agriculture; Bolivia; Colombia; Economic development; Economics; Experts; Federal government; India; Land-Grant University Cooperating Extension Service; Lectures; Management; Muscle Shoals (Ala.); Natural resources; People; Problem solving; Programs; Promotion; South America; Successful; Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority; Training; Translations; Travel; United States. Agency for International Development; West Indies

GPS: Muscle Shoals (Ala.)
Map Coordinates: 34.750833, -87.650278
00:28:39 - Effects of budget cuts

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Partial Transcript: I guess by the--uh--mid-eighties, um, I was pulled in to be Assistant Division Manager...

Segment Synopsis: Culp evaluates the effects of budget cuts to the TVA due to no longer receiving congressional appropriations. The level of support from certain senators and the agriculture industry towards the TVA is discussed.

Keywords: Agriculture industry; Assistant Division Manager; Budget cuts; Congress; Congressional appropriations; Gone; Help; Howard Baker; National Fertilizer Research Center; National campaigns; Ollie North; Overcome; Phone calls; Ronald Reagan; Senators; Support; TVA General Manager; Tennessee Valley; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); Thad Cochran; Tom Bevill

Subjects: Agriculture; Budget; Budget deficits; Economic development; Experience; Federal government; Fertilizer industry; Fertilizers; Hearing; Iran-Contra Affair, 1985-1990; Land-Grant University Cooperating Extension Service; Letters; Management; Money; People; Programs; Research; Staff; Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority; United States. Office of Management and Budget; Washington (D.C.)

00:32:29 - Impact of TVA budget cuts on outside agencies

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Partial Transcript: In terms of--uh--the ag extension agencies and, say, the non-TVA--uh--institutions that you worked with to--uh--pass on the technology and the information...

Segment Synopsis: Culp highlights how budget cuts within the TVA led to innovative programs created by land-grant university cooperative extension services.

Keywords: Agricultural development; Agricultural economists; Enterprises; Farm Management Specialist; Field man; Funding; Nationwide farm demonstration; Rapid Adjustment Farms; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); University of Tennessee Extension

Subjects: Agriculture; Budget; Economic development; Farmers; Farms; Federal government; Income; Land-Grant University Cooperating Extension Service; Money; Programs; Studies; Technology; Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority; University of Tennessee

00:35:11 - Rapid Adjustment Farms / Farm issues

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Partial Transcript: Oh, thinking a bit broad--more broadly--uh--what were some of the issues that, uh, were facing farmers in the 1980s or some of the changes that were affecting agriculture?

Segment Synopsis: Culp chronicles the development of rapid adjustment farms. Culp tells a story of a visit by one of Jimmy Carter's sons to a rapid adjustment farm demonstration day and the security precautions that the TVA had to take.

Keywords: 1980s; Cooperative Extension agents; Crop dusters; Cumberland Region (Tenn.); Demonstration days; Dissolving; Ed Jones; Erosion control; Gulleys; Jimmy Carter; Land & Water 201 program; Land resources; Long soil; New; New crops; No till farming; Phone calls; Power service areas; Profitable; Rain; Rapid Adjustment Farms; S. David Freeman; Soil; Soil Conservation Services; Sons; Soybeans; Speakers; Stage; State agencies; Stop soil erosion; Streams; Stubble; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); Tilling; Unauthorized; United States Secretary of Agriculture; West Tennessee

Subjects: Agriculture; Airports; Cattle; Change; Commodities; Corn; Cotton; Cropping systems; Crops; Dyersburg (Tenn.); Economic development; Farmers; Farms; Geography; Hogs; Jurisdiction; Land-Grant University Cooperating Extension Service; Nashville (Tenn.); Radio; Secret service; Soil erosion; State governments; Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority; Trees; Wood

GPS: Dyersburg (Tenn.)
Map Coordinates: 36.033333, -89.383333
00:41:22 - Energy conversion methods

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Partial Transcript: You did mention waste management, though.

Segment Synopsis: Culp discusses some of the methods of waste utilization and energy conversion developed and researched at Muscle Shoals. For instance, converting coal into ammonia, and converting solid waste into energy.

Keywords: Ammonia; Billionaires; Bought; City Municipal Waste; Commercial use; Diesel; Dismantled; Division Director of Agricultural Development; Early; Effective; Facilities; Farming; Fertilizer Center; Fieldmen; Fundamental Research Division; Lab Division of Technology; Municipalities; Overseas; Pilot plant; Process; Projects; Sold; Solid waste; Solid waste conversion; Sunflower oil; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); Tests; Waste management

Subjects: Agriculture; Atmosphere; Coal; Crops; Energy; Farmers; Fertilizer industry; Fertilizers; Food waste; Fuel; Introductions; Materials; Muscle Shoals (Ala.); Research; Sewage; Sunflowers; Technology; Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority

GPS: Muscle Shoals (Ala.)
Map Coordinates: 34.750833, -87.650278
00:46:26 - Changes to TVA in the late 1980s and early 1990s

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Partial Transcript: Well, this was--uh--n--then through the 1980s--

Segment Synopsis: Culp considers the structural changes that occurred within the TVA in the 1980s. Culp explains that he decided to retire once his position was slated to be eliminated.

Keywords: Agricultural development; Attention; Aware; Chief executive officer (CEO); Fundamental research; Job cuts; Marvin Runyon; Phased out; Positions eliminated; Restructure; Retirement package; TVA Board; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

Subjects: Budget; California; Change; Early retirement; Management; Manager; Muscle Shoals (Ala.); Pressure; Respect; Structure; Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority; Work

GPS: Muscle Shoals (Ala.)
Map Coordinates: 34.750833, -87.650278
00:48:59 - Contracted work

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Partial Transcript: Then Chris Ungate, who headed up the Clean Water Initiative for TVA at the time, heard that I retired and he called me...

Segment Synopsis: Culp lists the some of the work he did with the TVA under a Bicentennial Volunteers, Inc. (BVI) contract rather than as a regular employee. Culp's work on the TVA Clean Water Initiative and his advocacy work to convince NGOs to work on the Clean Water Initiative are recalled.

Keywords: Advocacy; BVI contract; Bicentennial Volunteers, Inc. (BVI); Bill Willis; Chris Ungate; Clean Water Initiative; Clean-up; Congressional Staff; Constituents; Contracted work; EPS; Effective; Fertilizer; Howell Heflin; John Sparkman; NGOs; Phone call; Rapid Adjustment teams; Resources; Results; River Action teams; River waste; Senators; Soil Conservation Service; Sponsor; Stabilize populations; Support; TVA General Manager; Talking; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); The Nature Conservancy; Water Quality Specialists

Subjects: Animals; Communities; Contacts; Encouragement; Engineers; Erosion; Federal government; Fertilizer industry; Fisheries; Mussel Shoals (Ala.); Non-governmental organizations; Participation; Programs; Promotions; Scientists; Species; Staff; Successful; Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority; Time; United States. Department of Agriculture; Washington (D.C.); Water; Water quality; Watersheds; Work

00:55:06 - Accomplishments

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Partial Transcript: What--uh--was your most important accomplishment, looking back over your career?

Segment Synopsis: Culp briefly reveals what his greatest accomplishments were as a TVA employee.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Congressional Staff; Demonstration farms; Enjoyed; International; Rapid Adjustment Farms; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

Subjects: Farmers; Good; Hope; Memory; Optimistic; People; Peru; Tennessee Valley Authority; Work

GPS: Peru
Map Coordinates: -10, -76
00:56:43 - Emphasis on environmental research and international fertilizer development

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Partial Transcript: If--uh--the programs that you have been talking about--uh--weren't--uh--cut and eventually I guess eliminated--uh--what do you think the Ag Center or the Fertilizer Center would be doing today?

Segment Synopsis: Culp briefly gives his opinion on what would have happened if the TVA Fertilizer Development Center was not cut in the 1990s. The various federal agencies and nonprofits that filled the gap in fertilizer research and agricultural development that was left behind by the TVA's decision to cut the Fertilizer Development Center are examined.

Keywords: Agricultural industry; Campus; Congressional appropriations; Convincing; Development; Environmentally friendly; Fertilizer research; Fertilizer technologies; Field men; Focus; International training; Name change; National Fertilizer Development Center; National Fertilizer Environmental Research and Development Center; National Fertilizer Foundation; Overseas; Parker Fertilizer Company; Pilot programs; Products; Richard Nixon; Separate; Slow release; Sold; Sponsors; Still open; Streams; Technologies; Technology library; Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); Transferred; Universities

Subjects: Africa; Agriculture; Analysis; Asia; Budget deficits; Comparisons; Farmers; Fertilizer industry; Fertilizers; Infrastructure; Innovations; International Fertilizer Development Center; Muscle Shoals (Ala.); Nutrients; Offices; Programs; Research; South America; Specialists; Studies; Sulfur-coated urea fertilizers; Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority; Training; United States. Agency for International Development

GPS: Muscle Shoals (Ala.)
Map Coordinates: 34.750833, -87.650278