Father/Daughter Team Rocks Cotton In Arizona
• By Carroll Smith,
“The dust storms that terrorized America’s High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before. In “The Worst Hard Time,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist and author Timothy Egan tells the epic story of this environmental disaster and its impact on the community stricken with fear and choked by dust in the ‘dirty thirties,’” says the teaser on the back cover of the book.
“In parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, it seemed on many days as if a curtain were being drawn across a vast stage at world’s end,” Egan wrote. “The land convulsed in a way that had never been seen before, and it did so at a time when one out of every four adults was out of work.”
During an interview in 2014 with the Arizona Farm Bureau, cotton farmer Lee Ott recalled the circumstances under which his family left the High Plains and relocated to the Copper State.
“I am a fourth-generation farmer in Yuma County,” Lee says. “My great grandfather came here from Oklahoma during the Great Depression. They were on their way to California to pick fruit when the car broke down in Yuma. They stayed here, living under a billboard sign and found work picking cotton by hand. Eventually, they homesteaded in the North Gila Valley where they began farming 60 acres, doing custom hay work and also working in the mines.”
The decision to escape the Dust Bowl and move out West turned out to be a good one for the Ott family. Lee and his brother, Larry, currently farm about 6,800 acres, which includes 1,000 acres of cotton, across Yuma County and the Bard area of California. In addition to the Gila Valley Farms operation, Lee also is in partnership with his daughter, Bailee Ott Snyder, on Lobo Farms where they grow cotton, lemons and alfalfa.
“When Bailee was a little girl, my wife, Candy, worked fulltime and Bailee was enrolled in daycare,” Lee says. “She absolutely hated it, so I had to pick her up every day about midmorning so she could spend the rest of the day on the farm. Eventually, she was unenrolled from daycare and went to work with me instead.”
“I enjoyed riding my tricycle around the shop while my dad worked on equipment much more than I enjoyed being at daycare!” Bailee says. “Sitting in the tractor all day with my dad cultivating cotton and driving around checking fields for water are some of my earliest childhood memories.”
Lobo Farms Established
The young Arizonan describes herself as “a very busy kid growing up” who was instilled with a strong work ethic at a young age.
“I began farming on my own when I was in high school as part of my Supervised Agricultural Experience for FFA,” Bailee says. “I started with 36 acres of wheat and shortly after expanded my operation to include some alfalfa. Starting my own farming operation helped me win my FFA chapter’s Star Farmer Degree, which is awarded to the chapter member who has an outstanding SAE in production agriculture.”
After graduating from the University of Arizona in 2017, Bailee expressed an interest in farming again.
“I asked my dad if he would teach me about farming cotton,” she says. “As an only child, I felt it was important for me to learn this trade from him. In 2018, we decided to partner up and registered Lobo Farms, which is in Yuma County as an LLC. The name is short for Lee Ott and Bailee Ott.”
Because Yuma County is situated on the Colorado River, Lee and Bailee say Lobo Farms is blessed to have an available water source, as of now.
“While all our cotton is flood irrigated, we take as many measures as possible to conserve our precious water,” she says.
Bailee, who holds a degree in agricultural technology and systems management, is also in her fourth year as a pest control advisor for Wilbur-Ellis Co. in Yuma, Arizona, and the surrounding area.
“As a PCA, I specialize in pest and disease management and make recommendations to growers on ways to control and/or treat issues related to pests and diseases,” she says. “I scout a wide range of crops and am involved in fertilizer sales. The crops I am responsible for include cotton, lettuce, romaine, broccoli (organic and conventional), cauliflower, spinach, spring mix, wheat, alfalfa and some seed crops.
“I believe being directly involved with production agriculture helps me to be a better PCA and vice versa. On one hand, being a PCA helps me understand the importance of fertilizer applications and being aggressive with pest control. On the other hand, being a grower means I must understand budgets and keep an eye on costs. Both roles are equally important as I balance being a PCA as well as a cotton grower.”
Bailee’s husband, Jake Snyder, who is a PCA for another company, is also involved with Lobo Farms. He spends his time after work and on the weekends helping with the tractors, irrigating, controlling weeds, and lending a hand with fertilizer applications or anything else that may be needed.
“Jake plays a vital role in making sure everything gets done in an efficient manner,” she says. “My mom, Candy, who comes from three farming generations, assists us with the bookwork and brings lunch to the field during our busy time.”
Outstanding Cotton Yields
Lee says 2020 was “the best cotton year we’ve ever had as far as yields go. We had favorable weather conditions and heat units for almost the entire season.”
Two varieties that performed particularly well last year on Lobo Farms were ST4990 B3XF and NexGen 5711 B3XF. When asked what she thought contributed to the exceptionally high yields, Bailee offered this theory.
“In the past few years, we have focused more attention on our fertilizer inputs,” she says. “As a PCA, I have learned the importance of using fertilizer blends and maintaining proper timing to apply different types of fertilizer, depending on the growth stage of the plant. I believe an aggressive fertilizer program plays a huge role in a high-yielding crop.”
In 2020, Lobo Farms was recognized as the Stoneville Legacy Club highest yield winner in the West region in the irrigated division with 2,903 pounds per acre. According to BASF, the club “honors cotton growers across the entire Cotton Belt who pair the high-caliber performance and premium quality of Stoneville cotton with their own skills to maximize yields.”
“We planted ST 4990B3XF on our winning cotton block,” Bailee says. “It was a great fit in our operation and exceeded all our expectations.”
“This was the highest yielding cotton block I have ever farmed,” he says. “A typical yield for us is usually around 3.3 to 3.5 bales per acre.”
Another variety that finished with an excellent yield on Lobo Farms last year was NexGen 5711 B3XF at 4.6 bales per acre.
“The cotton on Lobo Farms is grown in a different area of the Gila Valley where produce isn’t grown because the soil is so sandy,” Bailee says. “This means we can let the cotton season go longer there versus ground that gets rotated into produce. We picked the 5711cotton in December, so it had a much longer growing period than our other cotton blocks.”
This year, the father/daughter team is growing ST 4990B3XF, NexGen 5711 B3XF and ST 4550GLTP on Lobo Farms with the hope that the current season will be as successful as the one they experienced in 2020.
A Satisfying Way Of Life
When asked what inspires them to get up every day and give it their best, both Lee and Bailee expressed a love for farming and its lifestyle.
“Every day comes with different hurdles and challenges to overcome,” Lee says. “I like having the freedom to work outside and be my own boss.”
Bailee, who showed cattle from the age of 9 to 19, began driving a tractor at 14 and started farming on her own at 17, was “a very busy kid with a strong work ethic.” But she insists she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Needless to say, I really don’t know anything different other than maintaining a pretty active schedule that I enjoy.”