Following Big Footprints Through the Fields

Eric Best

I grew up in the Panhandle of Texas, amidst dirt, cattle, horses and blowing snow. After high school, I made the move to Lubbock, where Texas Tech University provided me with my first glimpse into the intriguing world of cotton. Studying under Dr. Dan Krieg, I quickly learned that the cotton plant itself had far more to teach me than a lifetime of learning could provide.

I spent the majority of my college career studying, researching and preparing. Every project assigned me seemed to link classroom learning to the “real world,” and I quickly learned to appreciate experimental work that was relevant to the cotton producers in our area. I was always told cotton was a challenge. A local grower once told me that in 50 years of farming, he had experienced 50 first years of farming. I have learned to appreciate that perspective. Upon graduation, I thought I was ready for the challenge, and Dave Albers took a chance on this fresh-out-of-school kid back in 1996.This is where my professional career in cotton began with Paymaster Cottonseed.  

I think the challenges of working with cotton in West Texas provided me with an understanding not only of how demanding the crop can be, but also how durable and resilient the growers are. Twenty-five years professionally involved in cotton have been humbling. Every year has its challenges, and the opportunities are always there to learn when we sit still and listen a bit.

Much like Dave, Keylon Gholston also demonstrated how to be successful and gave me many opportunities to listen. He was influential in shaping my perspectives beyond West Texas. We have traveled through the Carolinas, the Southeast, Mid-South, Arizona and everywhere in between. I repeatedly learned that difficult issues were merely opportunities for growth. Between these two mentors, I had plenty of opportunities. We often sat down to discuss our interesting field visits and vowed to write an entertaining coffee table book. But that is for another day. Both men have left big footprints in the fields. 

I have been blessed not only to develop relationships and work with growers, academics and consultants in my home state but across the Cotton Belt through our travels. The challenges differ, but the people all seem to share similar qualities: humility, stubbornness, grit, flexibility, openess and resilience.  A grower once shared his perspective when he told me he has never failed in raising a successful cotton crop. He went on to say that his 50-plus years of cotton farming were merely dedicated to finding ways to isolate the things that didn’t work. Pretty sound perspective.  

I have experienced boll weevil eradication success and the launch of multiple herbicide and insect traits, as well as unique native traits. The grower relationships have always been key to putting all the pieces together to understand and accomplish sustainable, economical cotton production. I count these relationships as some of my most prized accomplishments, both professionally and personally.  

Dave and Keylon have mentored me through years of “learning opportunities.” True mentors leave a mark beyond the professional realms, and they have had influence in most of our personal lives. They have demonstrated true work/life balance, family values and priorities. I am honored to have spent time in the fields with them. Cotton requires a commitment.  It provides a challenge.  It thrives on adversity and is always changing.  

Dave is still leading and mentoring folks in all facets of the cotton business, and Keylon recently retired as the Deltapine cotton product manager. I feel I have truly been blessed to have walked alongside such great mentors, friends and colleagues. Going forward, I am honored to be stepping into Keylon’s role and look forward to continuing to learn from the field.

Hopefully, the knowledge Keylon has shared with so many will in turn be shared back with me. Who knows, I may even be able to leave a few tidbits of his wisdom and stories along the way. I am convinced that he will still answer his phone to help anyone, even if he is out in the woods chasing turkeys somewhere.

When humility allows us to learn from the past and focus on what we can control, I believe we will be able to see the footprints left for us to follow.

— Eric Best

Lubbock, Texas

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