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Growth Stages Of A Cotton Consultant

hank jonesIt’s been said that the first 40 days of a cotton plant’s life are the most important. That may be true, but it’s hard to remember the first 40 days by the time you get to September and Tropical Storm Gordon is headed your way.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll make it to 40 years old — an age that seemed a lifetime away when I was 20. But just as a good first 40 days in a cotton plant’s life sets it up for success, hopefully my first 40 years have done the same for me.

As an emerging seedling on the Macon Ridge in West Carroll Parish, I grew up in the “land of cotton.” I developed an interest in cotton as a kid walking fields with my father when he was a chemical rep.

When I was in grade school, I took over half the garden one year growing cotton. In those days, I remember finding boll weevils in every bloom, budworms in every boll, and watching airplanes fly every five to seven days. Little did I know, but cotton was drawing me into its grip before I was even 10 years old.

In time, I had a decent root system and put on a few leaves. I accepted the call into full-time cotton ministry and studied agronomy at Louisiana Tech. During this time, I was a proud intern with Delta & Pine Land, assisting field agronomists in Louisiana and Arkansas for three summers.

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That was during the transition into Bt and Roundup Ready cotton. I met a lot of good people during those years — a young Jay Mahaffey being one of them. A relationship I value to this day.

Still eager to learn about cotton and pest management during my “squaring” period, I accepted the opportunity to study for a master’s degree at Louisiana State University with Dr. Rogers Leonard. I knew Rogers for several years prior to working for him. The first time I met Rogers, he gave me cotton seed to grow that had brown lint. I’ll never forget that moment.

I was in eighth grade, and it was the first of several experiments I’d run under his advisement. The environment I was in at LSU proved to be the “fertilizer” I needed at that impressionable point in my life. I worked and studied alongside two of the most talented and intelligent people I’ll ever know — Jeff Gore and Don Cook. They were 10 years older than me and graciously corrected many of my naïve mistakes.

These three men — Rogers, Jeff and Don — shaped my views on integrated pest management, which basically is the backbone of my career. I can remember learning as much from Rogers while listening to him talk on the phone to consultants as any other time I was around him. Funny how that worked out….

Transitioning into my pre-bloom period, I got married and began crop consulting. Looking back, I lost a few of my squares to bad time management and poor communication skills. I was (am) very fortunate to work alongside my father and two of my closest friends — Richard Costello and Ashley Peters.

I’ve been able to spray and clean up most of the bugs in my professional life with their suggestions. It’s good knowing you can go to folks with questions and concerns and expect an honest answer in return.

I’ve also been fortunate to have a patient wife.  Melanie, to put it kindly, wasn’t astute about agriculture when we got married. She has her hands full with me, and I’m proud that she has developed an understanding and appreciation for “my world.”

As my career unfolds, I’m learning that success comes from being able to properly evaluate situations in fields and have the perspective to make the right judgments following those evaluations. In regard to that notion, I’m comfortable writing that my first 40 years have been great.

From my perspective, I’ve been fortunate to learn from and work with some of the best people in the cotton industry. There are too many names to mention, but to all the people who have taken time to help me along the way, please let this brief article pay tribute and express my gratitude to you. I wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.

— Hank Jones
Pioneer, Louisiana
hankcjag@gmail.com