I grew up from humble beginnings in a family of four in Northampton County, North Caro-lina, on my grandfather’s farm. We had a simple childhood, although we didn’t know it because we had plenty. My family was always big on education and working to earn your keep. There were no allowances. There was also no heat, air conditioning or television.
As far back as I can remember, our lives centered around the farm. I was 10 to 12 years old when I graduated from tending gardens to an actual paycheck working on the farm. My grandfather was a peanut man, through and through. His farm priorities were peanuts first, cows second and everything else (cotton, wheat, corn) a distant third.
My first appreciation for Extension came through the Peanut Variety and Quality Evaluation program — a collaborative effort between North Carolina State University and Virginia Tech. My grandfather hosted research trials each year. If we were lucky enough for the field day stop at our farm to be after school, we got to go. They always had the coldest drinks, and I loved the excitement of growers and scientists coming to our farm. My grandfather appreciated Extension and university research, and I came to see the incalculable value in it as well.
By the time I was coming along, my grandfather was getting up in years. When cotton made its comeback in the late 80s and early 90s, it was a little late for him to invest in cotton equipment. Our cotton acres were share-cropped out. However, I can remember packing cotton in trailers for friends whose fathers grew it. I can also remember when the first module builders showed up. If I remember right, a new one cost between $30,000 to $40,000. My grandfather thought it would be hard for anyone to justify the cost of such a luxury. That’s laughable now. My grandfather farmed full-time for 60 crops, beginning in 1946 with mules and tenant farms. He retired at 88.
Last week marks 10 years since we lost him. There are so many things I’d like to talk to him about.
We don’t actively row-crop farm anymore and gardens are fewer and smaller. Fortunately, I now do on-farm cotton trials in the same fields I used to tend when my foot could barely reach the clutch on the tractor. When I was 16, I deviated from my peanut upbringing and began work as a cotton scout for Roanoke-Chowan Consulting & Research. My passion for cotton began during this time.
In the summer of 2001, I struck out West for a summer job in Lubbock, Texas, to work in the weed science program. I worked in cotton and peanut research trials, which was my first exposure to actively conducting applied research. The experience was good in many ways, especially growing cotton in a climate altogether foreign to me.
I started the cotton Extension graduate program in 2004, under the direction of Dr. Keith Edmisten, and went right on through my Ph.D. program with him as well. I was fortunate to learn under him then and still do now. My first “real” job came in 2009 as Extension cotton specialist for the University of Georgia. I worked to identify a replacement(s) for DP 555, which was no small task. Dr. Jared Whitaker and I embarked on a robust on-farm cotton variety testing program.
After five years, we returned to North Carolina in early 2015, and I began my current career as one of two cotton specialists at NCSU. Few people are fortunate enough to work with their mentor, but I am. I’m also blessed to work with some excellent colleagues in other cotton disciplines and have enjoyed the comradery with our colleagues in other states.
As I reflect on my career, I’m reminded of how all the successes we’ve had in the cotton industry happen when we come together and support one another. I’m fortunate to work with some of the best growers and others in the best industry. I’m thankful for those who took a chance on me and have supported me along the way. I reflect on my career fondly and look forward to a bright future for years to come.
— Guy Collins
Raleigh, North Carolina