Saturday, May 18, 2024

Cotton Legacy Endures

daniel baxley I am a third-generation farmer in Dillon, South Carolina. The farm began as a dairy and tobacco operation and remained that way until the 1980s. My father, Roy Baxley, grew the farm and converted it to all row crops, consisting of cotton, peanuts, corn, soybeans and wheat.

My dad gave me my love for farming, especially cotton. Growing up on the farm, I remember going out to the fields when I was very young and riding on a combine or cotton picker until I fell asleep as many farm kids recall.

They couldn’t keep me off the equipment. My earliest memory of cotton was during harvest when we would jump in the loaded cotton trailers. A trampoline just couldn’t compare to a wagon full of cotton!

My first job was driving a combine cutting wheat once I was out of school for summer break. I started when I was 9 years old and never looked back. I knew every year when I got out for the summer that I had farming to look forward to.

I didn’t get to help much with cotton harvest because I was in school, but I do remember spending many an hour pulling and chopping weeds in a cotton field with my brother and sister.

My dad’s favorite crop was always cotton and it definitely showed. He was very involved in the industry and did whatever he could to promote the crop. Dad was named cotton farmer of the year in 1990, the year after I was born. He grew cotton and was a partner in the Minturn Cotton Co. Gin in Dillon.

Dad was also involved in the leadership side of the cotton industry with the National Cotton Council and Southern Cotton Growers. Growing up, I remember going to meetings all over the Cotton Belt with these groups. Dad did everything in his power to aid the production of American cotton and help the people who made a living growing it.

I always tried to be around the farm as much as I could even when I was in high school and college. I learned little things from my dad along the way, such as planting cottonseed with a shallow depth to prevent crusting and going through a cotton picker with a fine-tooth comb, replacing worn spindles when needed.

He took pride in how well the pickers would clean the stalks in good cotton. I gained all the farming knowledge I could while I was in school. After I graduated college, I had one summer and harvest working with my dad that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I took over the farm at 23 after my dad passed away and was extremely green to many aspects of running an operation. Before taking over, I pretty much just ran equipment and did other odd and end jobs that a farm employee would normally do. I had no idea how much went into farming.

I had to figure out how to keep soil fertility in check, select varieties that work the best on certain soils, manage employees, keep up with equipment, and so on.

I had a lot of help from different farmers and other people in the industry when I started on my own. My dad’s friend and neighboring farmer, Frank Rogers, was a tremendous help in getting me established and comfortable farming on my own. I owe a lot of my success to Frank’s willingness to help an inexperienced young farmer.

As bad as the situation was for my family and me, it showed how tight-knit our farming community can be. I am extremely grateful for all the people I have been able to lean on for advice over the years.

I still really enjoy growing cotton, and it continues to be the predominant crop on our farm. It is a demanding and challenging crop to grow, especially with the weather South Carolina has had in the past five years. Still, even after all of the adversity, nothing beats the reward of seeing a beautiful cotton crop harvested after a years’ worth of work and dedication getting it there.

— Daniel Baxley
Dillon, South Carolina

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