My Turn, Again

By Bruce Roberts

The announcement appeared towards the bottom of page 17, in the June issue of Cotton Farming. The “In Remembrance: Dr. William F. (Bill) Lalor Sr.” acknowledged the passing of a long-time employee of Cotton Incorporated.

I’m sure there are many people reading this column who have never heard of Bill Lalor. I am just as certain that there are some “old-timers” still around who can recall Bill’s Beltwide Conferences presentations and cotton gin tours or were graced with his hospitality during a tour of Cotton Inc. research facilities. Bill was an “innovator” and if you don’t recognize the name but are involved with cotton farming, transporting and ginning seed cotton then you are directly benefiting from many of Bill’s contributions to the cotton industry. Cotton Inc. was the engine that drove the industry, but it was innovators like Bill who were the spark plugs that ignited the ideals that fueled the progress.

Bill’s expertise was engineering. While his Cotton Inc. colleagues walked the furrows and worked at controlling insects, Bill’s interests were directed towards harvesting, transporting and ginning. His collaborations with university and private ag engineers, supported by cotton growers through Cotton Inc., produced innovations that we think of as standard procedures today.

I became acquainted with Bill from his regular trips to California. As the Cotton Farm Advisor (county agent) with University of California Cooperative Extension in Kings County, I was in the center of the San Joaquin Valley “Cotton Belt.” Bill’s visits included tours of valley gins, rides in fancy rental cars and always lunch at Peden’s Café in Hanford.

I learned about the importance of handling seed cotton and the ginning process from Bill sharing his experience and knowledge. One visit I remember was the fall harvest of 1986. Bill and I were touring the Tulare Lake Bottom. Salyer’s had brought over from Australia two HYFAB module movers. This machine was designed to straddle a module while lifting it on a live floor, then reversing it to set the module on a standard flat-bed trailer. At the gin yard, another unit straddled the trailers while re-lifting the module as the truck pulled away, then set the module down in the yard. It was amazing to see how moduled seed cotton could be loaded and unloaded numerous times and still maintain its integrity.

We watched as this machine, supplied with a line of trailers, moved a mile of modules in a little over an hour. (Yes, fields in the lake bottom are full sections — 640 acres, or 1 mile x 1 mile) This would have taken six single module trucks three days! Bill was beside himself, excited as a kid at Disneyland watching this action.

Bill worked with J.K. (Farmer) Jones, Cotton Incorporated and Lambert Wilkes of Texas A & M on developing the module handling system. He shared his slides of the system at the Beltwide Conferences that January. He also introduced me to Lambert, and as I recall, the three of us would have dinner together every year until both Bill and Lambert retired. For a young advisor, being included in this circle of your mentors made attending the Beltwide Conferences such special and memorable occasions.

I’ve often thought of Bill and what he did after he retired from Cotton Inc. So the announcement hit a personal chord when I read of his passing. Men and women whose careers are spent collaborating with researchers, Extension educators and farmers don’t just ride off into the sunset. Their legacy should be acknowledged and celebrated because the transformations they produced are the standard practices used today. If you are a cotton grower transitioning from large rectangular modules to round ones, the foundation of the handling implements used to load and unload round modules is a modification of the innovations developed by L. Wilkes, F. Jones and Bill Lalor — innovators who helped make the American agriculture production system the most efficient in the world.

In closing, my thoughts turn to our future innovators and the challenges they will face. What kind of innovations and technology will it take to achieve the next level of world demands for agriculture production? I’m confident the next generation will continue to build on the paradigm of progress forged by the innovators of yesterday. Thank you, Dr. William F. (Bill) Lalor, for all that you did.

— B. A. Roberts, baroberts@mail.fresnostate.edu
U. C. Cooperative Extension County Director and
Farm Advisor Emeritus
Professor and J.G. Boswell Chair Emeritus, CSU Fresno

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