Saturday, April 20, 2024

A North Carolina Cotton Family

Bringing Cotton Back To Eastern Carolina’s Landscape


In 1940, Gary Respess’ grandfather purchased some land that would become a legacy for generations to come.

Respess, a farmer, husband, father and grandfather, resides in Pantego, North Carolina. He farmed for decades in this small-town part of Beaufort County. He married his wife, Elaine, and raised three daughters.

Carolina Cotton History

When the boll weevil hit North Carolina in the 1920s, the cotton crop was decimated. 

“This county was the largest cotton-growing county in the state, and it went to zero with the boll weevil,” Respess said.

Respess recounted how he’d come across the deed for the 1940-purchased property. His grandfather bought the original orchard and farm for $8,000. They paid it off in 10 years.

“Farming — it’s always been part of us. I was raised right here. Daddy and Mama all lived right over here,” he said.

Once the Boll Weevil Eradication Program made strides in the area, along with chemical and technological innovations, Respess began cotton farming in 1995.

He said they grew his first cotton with BXN and hoped for Roundup Ready cotton coming down the pipeline. 

It was not long after this, in 1996, when Respess joined with several others to form an LLC and build the prominent cotton gin in the area. 

There was once a small gin right down the road that ginned about 10 to 12 bales a day. At the gin today, they try to gin between 700 to 800 bales in a 24-hour shift.

The Next Chapter

One of his daughters, Hope, married Derick Tetterton in 1996. From there, the rest was history.

From left to right: Bill Peele, consultant for Tetterton Family Farms, pictured with Derick, Hope, Mollie and Greyson Tetterton, Elaine and Gary Respess.

“The father of three girls finally got a son who wanted to farm,” Hope laughed.

Before joining the family business, Derick originally had a trucking business and hauled grain for many, including Respess.

After growing BXN cotton for two years, Respess became one of the first growers in the county and area at large to grow Roundup Ready cotton in 1997. In 1998, Derick officially started working with Respess on the farm and quickly became an instrumental player.

“I used to laugh and say the kids were raised going to see their daddy on the sprayer or the picker because it seemed he was always on there,” Hope said.

A significant change came in 2009 when the transition was made from a module-type picker to a round bale one. This helped with labor as it did not require nearly as many people to operate effectively.  

“The way the equipment is set up is a whole lot better, and it just does a better job,” Respess added.

Over the years, they incorporated more tools to further their operation. These include variable-rate seeding, GPS, precision land leveling and Climate FieldView. All contribute to the farm’s continued success and improvement.

“The less fuel you burn, the more money you can put in your pocket if you can get the same results,” Tetterton said. “We’re still learning, too.”

In 2013, Respess retired from farming full time, passing the torch onto Derick and Hope, who formed DHT Farms, later becoming Tetterton Family Farms.

The Cotton Crop

Respess commented on their experience growing cotton throughout the years.

“It’s like every crop — it comes and goes,” he said. “What we always liked about cotton was how it was a forgiving crop. You can lose it in a day and have it come back not long after that.”

He recounted a time when they had virtually lost a cotton crop around July 1 one year. He said it came back and still made 800 to 900 lbs. “It had time to recover.”

Derick said last year was the best year they had for cotton on the farm, and this year is looking to be close to that as well, pending any hurricanes later in the season. “That’s our killer with cotton; it’s that first part of September. As long as they stay away, we should be pretty good,” he said.

Resistant palmer amaranth and ragweed are the two main weeds the Tettertons work to keep under control. “Rotating corn more — with the chemistry you can use there — helps,” Derick said. 

In following up on good rotation practices, it was mentioned that rotating with cotton had a good effect for other crops on the farm as well. “We used to have a lot of cyst nematode problems in the soybeans, and cotton used as that rotation for two or three years just knocked them out,” Bill Peele, TFF’s consultant, commented.

The Farm Today

Today, the farm operates as Tetterton Family Farms and consists of 3,200 acres of owned and leased farmland — 1,600 acres of soybeans and roughly 800 acres of both cotton and corn make up the operation. All the cotton is dryland on a mixture of sandy and black dirt, and this year, is all Deltapine cotton.

As far as the crew goes, the operation consists of the Tettertons and Kenneth Van Staalduinen. Kenneth has been part of the farm for more than 40 years now, Respess said. “We are very fortunate to have him.”

“When dad retired, we were very thankful Kenneth wanted to continue right on with us. He’s been part of the farm forever,” Hope said.

Derick and Hope Tetterton watching as Greyson and Mollie Tetterton check cotton.

Hope is the bookkeeper, parts runner, cook and anything else needed as far as the farm is concerned. 

Greyson and Mollie Tetterton, Derick and Hope’s children, also have key roles.

Greyson is in his first full year on the farm — spending lots of time in the sprayer and picker — after working part-time in the summers and spending four years in the Marine Corps. Mollie assists Hope in helping the farm remain afloat. “When I’m home, I either bring lunch or get the call to bring them from farm to farm.”

The Industry And Inspiration

The Tettertons are heavily involved in the agricultural industry as a whole and use their close-knit family farm as fuel to push them forward each day.

Derick is the Beaufort County representative for the Blackland Farm Managers Association and serves as secretary for the Pantego Creek Drainage District. Hope is also the secretary for the Blackland Farm Managers Association.

On the farm, “weather is always the main challenge,” Derick said. Hope added input costs and supply issues don’t help either.

Both Derick and Hope relayed their major success as being able to keep farming year after year. Through the good and bad years, they just continue forward. 

As for the inspiration to keep going every day, Hope answered quickly. “Aside from Jesus, family is it,” she said.

“There’s good and bad to every job that you have; that’s just life. There’s no other thing we’d rather do.”

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