I must say that although I was flattered when Tommy Horton called several weeks ago and asked me to submit a column for Cotton Farming, it really wasn’t something that I thought I could do at the time. I haven’t written anything in a long time and, to be honest, I’ve been a little out of the loop.
But, true to form, Tommy was quite persuasive, and I agreed to do it. As the deadline grew near, I found myself in Starkville, Miss., attending some meetings, and it really struck me how good it felt to be back in a familiar place. Mississippi State University has changed tremendously since I enrolled as a freshman in 1991. And while reminiscing with old classmates, it made me think about how my career has come full circle.
I grew up in a small town in the northwest Mississippi Delta where my family farmed and had both a consulting and contract research business. When I left for college in 1991, I had no intention of ever pursuing agriculture as a career. It wasn’t because I didn’t like the farming lifestyle; I honestly didn’t want to work that hard when I “grew up.”
However, after two years of biology and chemistry classes, my advisor informed me that medical school was very competitive, and my social skills were more impressive than my grades. Although I had sworn off agriculture as a career, it started to look a bit more appealing, and if worse came to worse, I could always go home and work in the family business. Right? Wrong!
I remember 1993 like it was yesterday. Hot, dry and one of the worst insect years that I had experienced to date. Insect control expenses in cotton were through the roof, and the hot, dry weather reduced yields to nearly half of normal. At that point, I saw how the stress of farming could take its toll on even the hardiest producers. With that, I made up my mind to go to graduate school.
Fast-forward a little more than three years. I found myself in a familiar situation but with even more pressing circumstances. My wife was pregnant with our first child, and although I had submitted dozens of resumes for a job, I hadn’t received one call for an interview. My daughter was born on Feb. 1, and I still remember the call with my first (and only one at the time) job offer. We were off to Jackson, Tenn.
I spent four of the best years of my life in Jackson as the state cotton Extension specialist and had the opportunity to work with some of the best producers and university folks in the country. But the call of home proved to be too great, and in the spring of 2006 I found myself moving again, this time to work in the private industry.
Moving back to the Delta was great and working in the private industry gave me a perspective unlike any other. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with new technologies and interact with producers at a different level. That, too, was short lived and we were off again.
This time, we moved to St. Louis to work in an area completely unfamiliar to me – Midwestern corn production. The job truly stretched me professionally, but the role exposed me to parts of both the company and the country that has given me a whole new respect for Midwestern farmers and those involved in the seed business.
Now, today, I have come full circle. I’m finally back in the South where I belong, and I’m fortunate to work in the exciting world of agricultural data management. Technology is enabling us to not only gather data at a staggering pace but analyze it like never before for more effective decision making.
I will be forever grateful to all those people who have given me the opportunity to experience so many things in agriculture. It’s been a wild ride so far, and I look forward to whatever comes next – as long as I get to do it from right here.
– Chism Craig, Hernando, Miss.