I was raised northeast of Lubbock, Texas, on a cotton, grain sorghum, wheat and cattle farm near the community of Farmer, which is just north of Lorenzo. Both of my grandfathers farmed, and I remember them and my dad talking about the importance of leaving the land in better shape than it was when you started.
The farm was homesteaded by my mom’s grandparents, Jim and Dora Thornton. I grew up in the house my mom grew up in, which was rebuilt with lumber from my grandfather Clayton Thornton’s house.
When my mom and dad married, my grandparents moved to Ralls, leaving the farm to my parents to rent. The first time my mom had ever moved was when we left the family farm in the fall of 1976 — the same year I moved to Canyon, Texas, to attend West Texas State University.
I still enjoy going back to Lorenzo and visiting my friends who farm and live in that area. Facebook makes it much easier to keep up with them. My wife, Carey, and I have since moved my mom to our farm in Arkansas.
Carey and I live at the edge of the Ozarks near where the White River flows from the hills into the Delta. She is the full-time farmer in the family, and I have the job in town. Carey is very active as our Farm Bureau and conservation district board president for Jackson County.
My Lubbock friends might best relate to my thrill of living in the hills when I tell them my criteria for land shopping was a place with hills, trees and creeks that had water all the time. Sometimes I wish I had thought to add having topsoil to my list. A special bonus is we are close to most of Carey’s immediate family.
We all enjoy our time together whether we are working, attending church or just sitting around the table visiting. Farming is generally a topic of discussion as cotton runs as deep in her family as it does mine.
I’ve had some wonderful mentors, and I try to give back. My mom and dad set a great example for me and my younger brother and sister. We all know and appreciate the value of hard work and taking pride in a job well done. Drs. Tom Cothren and Juan Landivar helped me better understand why cotton does the things it does.
My friend, Ray Smith, broadened my experiences and was a driving force in my move to Extension in Arkansas. I was fortunate to have worked beside Extension greats such as Drs. James Supak and Lanny Ashlock.
After formally beginning my Extension career in 1995, I took a fork in the road in 2006 with the National Cotton Council that lasted almost eight years. My experiences with the likes of Dr. Andy Jordan have continued to make me a better Extension specialist.
I returned to Extension in 2014 and have a combined time of 15-plus years with the University of Arkansas System Division of Ag. I love the interaction with county agents, producers, consultants and industry.
Farming, cotton and helping people have always been my passion. My newest interest is improving soil health. Blake Vince, who farms in Ontario Canada, and Iowa producer Loran Steinlage introduced me to a simple, yet effective, way to show farmers there’s life in the soil by using cotton underwear.
The more life, the more tattered the cotton briefs become. The interaction between living roots and microbes in the soil along with other practices we do or don’t do have a tremendous affect on soil health.
Improving soil health is the key to boosting profitability and achieving continuous improvement at the farm level. It also helps the cotton industry reach its sustainability goals so we can leave our world in better shape than it was when we got here.
I just never thought I would become best known to some for showing my dirty underwear.
— Bill Robertson
Jackson County, Arkansas, between Possum Grape and Oil Trough near the community of Thida