How time flies these days. You have heard it before, but I had to say it one more time. We often get caught up in the day-to-day activity of our lives, families and careers without fully taking time to reflect on how time changes our (or at least my) perspective on almost everything.
I can’t name a single part of life that experience hasn’t made better. Or maybe experience makes you realize some of the things that you shouldn’t repeat. Either way, agriculture is certainly no different in that regard.
If you will, allow me to reflect a little in this article. Our business today is moving faster than ever before and changing at a rate that I never imagined as a kid growing up in Chase, La. One of the almost certain results of this rapid change is the fact that we all get the chance to gain more experience, whether we want it or not.
Not too long ago, when employees met or scientists gathered, I was the young guy in the room. Not so anymore. I’m not necessarily bothered by this fact. Indeed, I’m rather happy to have survived parts of my youth (particularly college), but pride simply won’t let me buy reading glasses yet.
Throughout this time, I have also had the opportunity to participate in some revolutionary events in the cotton production world. For this, I will be eternally grateful, but the experience is lost without being applied to the present.
So, let’s think back a few years to where we were as an industry. I first became aware of what was going on in the cotton business as a teenager. The neighborhood farmers (you know who you are) gave me the “opportunity” to work on their farms as much as I wanted. As a result, I became well acquainted with the production system of the day.
Who can forget “plowing around?” We started on Monday and plowed until we “plowed out.” If we finished on Friday, we got Saturday off. Two-row cotton pickers?? That was a long, hot ride on some days. How about the budworms and boll weevils of the mid-1990s? These critters caused us much trouble, but they also led me toward entomology as a career, so maybe they weren’t all bad.
I say this to state a simple axiom. We learn as time moves along, and it seems to be flying by. The important point is that learning is only possible when we realize that we are in class, which seems to be the case for life, in general.
Now, where are we today and how can past experiences be useful in today’s world? For the three challenges I listed above, the agricultural community has made great strides. Many of the practices that we currently use are changing as you read this, but progress is all around us.
As for “plowing around,” we now have a selection of tools to help in weed management programs, including herbicide-tolerant crops, tillage options and a fairly diverse group of chemical herbicide options. Two-row cotton pickers gave way to four-row pickers, adding module builders, boll buggies, six-row machines and, most recently, on-board module builders, adding efficiency with each step.
None of these innovations would have occurred without the teamwork of the entire industry. For that, I say to all involved, “Congratulations.”
No doubt, the next cotton production season will present new and unique challenges, some of which we don’t know about yet. Our industry has met many similar challenges in the past. I’m reminded almost daily of wise words from one of my cotton- growing mentors: “Son, remember, I’ve been where you’re going.” There is a real lesson in that statement.
The future is almost certainly not without difficulty. With a memory of past successes (and failures), an ear to present challenges and creative thinking applied to future solutions, I’m confident that the U.S. cotton industry will have a bright and successful future.
– Jay Mahaffey, Scott, Miss.