Cotton Links


New ‘Education’ For Arkansas Farmer

By Tommy Horton

For 24-year-old Erin Langston, it was like receiving the best education she could have imagined. In fact, for someone returning to work on the family cotton farm in Blytheville, Ark., you might call it “eye opening.”

Langston thought she knew a lot about her favorite crop. After all, the operation, which includes a farm, gin and warehouse, has been in the family since 1917.

But after spending nearly two months this year at the International Cotton Institute in Memphis, Tenn., Erin learned about other things such as futures and options, global marketing, textile mills, grading and classing. In short, she found out why cotton is a global industry.

The Institute, sponsored by the American Cotton Shippers Association since 1995, is an eight-week school conducted at the Fogelman Executive Center in Memphis. The class was comprised of 12 students this year, and after a rigorous schedule, graduation ceremonies were conducted on July 14.

The class usually has had as many as 40 students, but the global economic recession and other factors affected total enrollment this year.

“It was such a wonderful experience,” Langston says. “Now I feel as if I know how the rest of the industry operates, and that will definitely help me in our family operation.”

Family Farm In Arkansas

Langston grew up near Demopolis, Ala., where her father John was farming with his brother. Eventually, the family decided to move to the Blytheville, Ark., area.

Erin is vice president of project development and spends most of her time at the warehouse (Caruthersville Cotton Warehouse). She earned her bachelor’s degree at Rhodes College in Memphis and initially was headed toward a teaching career. But, after studying in France for a semester, she realized that returning to work in the family operation was more attractive.

“When I was in Paris, I took a course in world economics, and that’s when I became more interested in a career in agriculture,” she says. “It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.”

Langston heard about the Cotton Institute after her cousins attended the school, and she decided it would be advantageous for her career. In addition to helping run the company’s warehouse, she’s involved in special projects to help all facets of Langston Enterprises become more efficient in technology.

Valuable Interaction

Since Erin was one of two farmers in this year’s class (the other was from Brazil), she learned a lot from her classmates who represented other segments of the industry.

Conversely, she also helped those same classmates when she often offered a farmer’s perspective in classroom discussions.

“I found myself asking a lot of questions in class,” she says. “That’s the only way I could learn anything. By the end of the session, I definitely felt like I had a better appreciation for what happens at the textile mill as well as what cotton merchants do in their jobs.”

One of the advantages of being part of a small 12-member class was the interaction among students. Even though the group took several field trips together, Erin took it one step further and invited several classmates to her family’s farm in Blytheville for a weekend visit.

Important Experience

Bill Griffin, coordinator of the Cotton Institute since its inception 14 years ago, believes Erin’s participation in the class will help in her responsibilities at the family farm.

“She definitely knows more about what the merchant side of the business is,” he says. “There has always been this mistrust between merchants and other sectors, but we were able to show the class that the merchant is simply trying to do his job.”

Griffin also believes that there are intangible benefits for young people such as Erin who are getting started in their cotton careers.

“This experience will help her gain a broader perspective of the entire industry,” he says. “And you really can’t put a price tag on that. Now she understands the big picture.”

Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or thorton@onegrower.com.

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