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Earl Williams: A Giant In California Ag

A few months ago, a significant event occurred in the U.S. cotton industry, and some of us are a bit late in acknowledging just how important it was. Earl Williams, the long-time executive vice president of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, retired after serving that organization for 20 years. No matter what kind of turbulence might have occurred in cotton production in that state through the years, one constant always existed. And that was Earl’s tireless efforts in promoting cotton and representing the interests of producers and ginners in that state.

Earl was an original, and there is simply no other way to describe him. He was a colorful speaker who knew how to get right to the point when making a presentation to a group. He was also one of the great conversationalists in the cotton industry. No matter where an industry meeting might occur, you could always find Earl holding court and sharing stories with friends. He should have been a politician. That’s how effective he was at connecting with different folks across the Cotton Belt.

And never let it be said that Earl didn’t know how to adjust to the changing environment for California cotton. It wasn’t that many years ago that the state had 1.2 million aces of cotton. It was easily the second-largest cotton-producing state in the Belt behind Texas. But the environment has changed for a number of reasons. The water situation in California has become critical for all crops grown in the state. Farmers became even more diversified in their crop strategies each year, and it was inevitable that cotton acres would decrease, and that is certainly the case in 2014. But did you ever hear Earl moan and groan about it? No. He simply dealt with each situation as it arose and tried to tackle the issues in a positive way.

How many times did I hear Earl lean on his cotton friends and tell them to “cotton up” and be proactive for the industry. He simply refused to give up in any fight when it came to California cotton. I can only imagine how Earl agonized through the years over the limited water allocation for cotton farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.

You never had to wonder about Earl’s commitment to his job. He was always there, and he never relented in his effort to make sure that California cotton producers and ginners had someone fighting their battles in Sacramento and Washington.

Even though Earl left some big shoes to fill, it should give everyone in California a good feeling knowing that Roger Isom will take over and continue the effort that Earl has expended over the last two decades. Yes, we are going to miss Earl, and I just hope it won’t be long before I get to see him again and thank him personally for his many years of service to the U.S. cotton industry.