Tribute To Consultants

No matter what month of the season, you can always find these unsung heroes’ “footprints in the field.”

photo-cover-storyThrough the years, the cotton consultant has always been a crucial part of any producer’s operation. He walks the fields, monitors the crop’s progress and is the eyes and ears for the farmer every day.

In many respects, the consultant is a behind-the-scenes person who doesn’t necessarily have his work showcased to the public. Those days, however, are long gone. Every producer who continues to grow cotton knows all too well the value of his consultant.

Whether it’s variety selection, spraying schedule or adoption of a new management practice, it is the consultant who is on the front line for the producer. He is a tireless advocate. His footprints are in the farmer’s fields every day, and that alone is testament to his dedication.

In the following pages, Cotton Farming begins its Tribute To Consultants by publishing messages from eight consultants – two from each production region. Their comments are personal and sometimes emotional. But they reflect a commitment that is hard to duplicate in the sometimes chaotic world of agriculture.

Could farmers do their jobs without a consultant? Obviously, some family operations don’t use a consultant, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule.

We salute these dedicated individuals, and the following messages reflect what farmers have known for decades. Cotton consultants make valuable contributions to the success of a farm, and it’s hard to imagine what agriculture would be like without them.
John Beasley
Screven, Ga.

I got back into consulting full-time in 2001, and when you consider the hours that we work, you really have to love being a consultant. There is also the demand and pressure that comes with this kind of job.

The main reason I love being a consultant is that you’re making a difference for the farmer. You get to see the results of your recommendations. Would I be happy doing anything else? Well, there have been a few times in August every year when I ask myself that question. When you’re going through a tough crop year, you might say, “Is there anything else I am qualified to do?”

We are more than just consultants for the farmer. In many cases, we represent a support system that makes us part of his family. One of my farmers was stricken by leukemia this past year, and he was upfront with his workers and me that he needed our help to get through the crop year.

We went the second mile to get the crop finished, and it made me feel good to have been able to help him. He was a hands-on farmer, and once he learned about his situation, he had to go take care of himself.

I am glad to report that he is doing well and has gone through his chemo treatments. I played just a small part in helping out this person. His friends really rallied together, and we all felt emotionally invested in the situation.

Like I said, our farmers are more than just customers. They are like family members to us. We know how to take care of each other.

Wes Briggs
Bainbridge, Ga.

The challenge for me as a consultant is to be above-average in everything that I do for the farmer. I don’t want to be any old guy doing an average job. I am very fortunate to have five employees, and our business has grown quite nicely. Seeing the company grow and watching how my employees have expanded in their expertise gives me a good feeling.

I want to have an impact on every aspect of that cotton’s plant’s growth and development…all the way to harvest. Whether it’s cotton, corn, peanuts or small grains, I have the same approach even though each crop offers a different challenge.

I have been working at this job for 27 years, and you still need to have your priorities in order. Mine are faith, family and occupation. And sometimes I might have to put hunting on that list. Out of all of those years, I would have to say 2013 might have been the most challenging one. We had more than 45 inches of rain this past summer.

It was like trying to grow cotton in a swamp. I have never seen anything like it. When you drive down the road, it’s very humbling. It almost brings tears to my eyes to see a situation that you really can’t control.

The good news is that we had a few farmers who didn’t get hit with as much rain, and one of them even averaged 1,390 pounds per acre. That was encouraging.

We know that we can’t control the weather, but I still want to know that I gave it my best effort.

Tucker Miller
Drew, Miss.

It’s hard to put into words why I love being a consultant so much. It’s a career that I always wanted to pursue, and there is such great satisfaction when you can help a farmer and make a difference in how his crop turns out. As we all know, this isn’t a career where you work a 9 to 5 schedule every day. It is a total commitment to the farmer, and that means being a partner with him in tackling a problem. Then, hopefully, we are able to see the fruits of our labor together.

This is a different kind of job, and it isn’t necessarily what every person wants to do. But I absolutely love being outside checking fields. I also embrace the idea that I can partner with the farmer and figure out how we’ll attack a problem.

When I look back at 2013, I can think of many situations that were satisfying. But one stands out more than the rest. I started working with this farmer for the first time, and he was having serious insect and weed problems. We talked about the problem and looked at every part of his operation – varieties, spraying schedule and other things. We finally came up with a plan.

Later in the fall, he sent me a photo of his picker going through a field at harvest. There was nothing but beautiful cotton everywhere. That was one of the most satisfying moments I have ever had as a consultant. When you can make a difference in a farmer’s field, it makes you feel like you have really made a contribution. That is what it’s all about.

Harold Lambert
Innis, La.

It’s a privilege to at least play a small role in the business life of my farmer customers and contribute to their success. Even when commodity prices are relatively good, there is nothing easy about this undertaking. However, it is a proven fact that farmers can outsource decision-making to the right folks and do a better job in a number of different areas.

It’s a foregone conclusion that there are numerous facets to a farmer’s job. He can’t do it all by himself. In this day and age, with so much information out there, it’s even more of a challenge for farmers to reach out and find trustworthy and independent advice. They are bombarded every day with overtures from different sectors. There are just too many dogs in the hunt.

The astute farmer-businessman understands this.

We also have to acknowledge that the university research and Extension community has had to cut back because of financial challenges.

As for 2013, the weather helped us out in Louisiana and made everybody look good. We encountered some weather problems in the spring, and there was plenty of rain. But it was also a case of getting out of the way and letting things happen.

We got into a situation where we didn’t have hot temperatures at night, and that helped the cotton development a lot. There were a lot of happy cotton farmers in the state who felt very fortunate in how the season ended. Based on 2013, I think a lot of farmers are now encouraged.

Justin Chopelas
Odem, Texas

There are many things that I love about being a consultant. I enjoy watching planters roll in the spring and watching pickers roll out for harvest. Waiting and searching fields for the season’s first open boll is like a scavenger hunt.

Being a consultant affords me the opportunity to remain a kid at heart, playing with bugs and driving a four-wheeler in the mud. Ultimately, the biggest reward for me is helping a farmer become successful and sharing that success with him.

My wife has a difficult time describing what I do for a living. She jokingly tells people that I play in the mud and catch bugs all day. But, once again, it all goes back to my love of being an entomologist.

I love being in a field and spotting an unusual insect. I always think, “Hey, dude, where did you come from?”

In 2013, I got the chance to draw on some of the diversity I’ve seen in consulting in different areas. I was able to recommend a new and different variety to a producer. I thought it was a good fit for his location and for the growing pressures he might face.

The farmer trusted in my experience, planted it, and the result was pretty impressive. That was very rewarding.

When it all works out, it’s such a good feeling. It’s all about trust, and thankfully I have that kind of relationship with my farmers. It’s a wonderful partnership to have.

Beck Johnson
Weatherford, Okla.

One of the reasons why I like being a consultant is because there is such a rhythm to each crop season. You watch that crop grow and develop, and then you see it finish up at the end of the year. There is something very special about that.

I have worked as a consultant since 1980, but it wasn’t until 1988 that I moved to Oklahoma. Every consultant has a different story on how he chose this career. I didn’t come from a farming background, but I took some undergraduate courses at Cameron University, and the teachers there influenced me. That is why I went on to Oklahoma State University for my master’s degree.

We all know it’s not a 9 to 5 type job. That’s pretty obvious. I love the partnership I have with my farmers, and that’s one of the positives about this job.

We have dealt with it all here in Oklahoma. We have gone from three of the driest years I can recall – especially 2011, which was one of the toughest. Amazingly, we had a wonderful crop in 2013. We produced some 3.5 and 4-bale cotton, and that is just incredible when you think about those dry years we’ve had in the past. And it wasn’t just cotton. We had good yields in soybeans, corn and peanuts.

I told my farmers that if we can order up this kind of weather every year, we might be able to do something about yields. It was just a very gratifying feeling to see our farmers here finally see their hard
work rewarded.

Doyle Stewart
Buckeye, Ariz.

Actually, I didn’t know this industry existed for a long time. Half of my family farmed, and half of it was involved in the cattle business. I have been a consultant for about 15 years. One of the things that I enjoy about this job is that you’re outdoors all the time, and every season is different.

To be with a farmer from planting through the growth stages and keeping the plant healthy is very rewarding to me.
I am based in Buckeye, Ariz., and I originally landed a job in research at the University of Arizona. That was an ideal position because I love research and science. I lived on a farm for part of my life, so I always knew that I wanted to do something in ag. I just didn’t want to be tied down to a desk.

Consulting is definitely a passion for me, and I love it a lot.

When I look back on 2013, I can recall how the resurgence of the stink bug was very much a problem in Arizona. I picked up a new client, and I helped him with his strategy for dealing with this pest, and we also changed up some of his varieties. We doubled his production, and it really worked out well. I saw some immediate results from my efforts, and that was very rewarding.

The farmer and I both felt positive about that situation.

This career has been very good to me. Unless I was a full-time producer, I can’t think of anything else that I’d rather do than being a consultant.

It’s a special kind of job.

Mark Carter
Los Banos, Calif.

I grew up in the southwest corner of the Santa Clara Valley in California, and that region was a big agricultural region many years ago. I had a garden in my backyard, but I didn’t really know much about agriculture. After graduation from Fresno State University, I worked for another consultant, and then went out on my own in 1980. Independent consultants are more important now in California ag than they were in the early years.

Our company operates 12 months a year, and I have two full-time employees and three part-timers. We consult on 35,000 acres, and it’s very interesting to say the least. You’re always trying to solve problems. I would say it’s a problem-solving business, and it never gets boring.

You have to prove to a grower that your recommendations will make money for him. If you and the grower are working together as a team, there aren’t any crashes, and you can maintain some consistency. As for 2013, we had exceptional yields because we took care of our top crop. We managed our late lygus, and that probably resulted in an additional half bale of yield. In a best-case scenario, we can have five to seven bolls on the top nine inches of the crop.

It was just one of those seasons when everything came together. We didn’t have much rain in the fall, and the temperatures weren’t excessively high in the summer. It was just a very gratifying situation for our farmers and that made me very happy.

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