Many cotton producers in the Mid-South have shifted away from cotton, some even shifting completely out of cotton for grains. Nevertheless, cotton is still “King” in the hearts of so many producers throughout the Mississippi Delta region.
That is certainly true for three producers from southeast Missouri. Gary Hayes, Patrick Turnage and Johnny Watkins were raised there, farm there and still call the Bootheel region home. They learned to farm from their fathers, and they continue the tradition and legacy passed down to them. These three producers remain committed to the crop that has made them successful – cotton.
Patrick is a fourth generation cotton farmer from Hayti, Mo., and farms with his father and uncles as a part of Turnage Farms. He has grown cotton since returning home from Murray State University with an agri-business degree in 2002 and currently grows about 3,000 acres of cotton in Missouri and Tennessee.
Taking Pride In Cotton
Gary Hayes, who is both a cotton producer and general manager of Caruthersville Gin Company in Caruthersville, Mo., couldn’t take more pride in being involved in the cotton industry. It is a way of life he sees no reason in changing. He is a past state president of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association and remains very involved in many aspects of the cotton industry, not only in Missouri but abroad.
Johnny Watkins is a producer from Wardell, Mo., and gins at Caruthersville. Like Gary and Patrick, Johnny also has deep roots in the cotton industry, thanks to his father, Tony, who unfortunately passed away in 2009.
Recently, I received a call from Gary saying that he, along with Patrick and Johnny, were interested in visiting a cotton operation in the Southeast region of the Cotton Belt.
“With Georgia growing over a million acres of cotton, we want to see what they’re doing, and what we could possibly bring back and implement on our farms,” says Patrick about the opportunity. They were willing to travel to Georgia at their own expense to meet with some innovative Southeast cotton farmers.
Lining Up A Visit To SE
I immediately called Monty Bain, Southeastern Regional Communication Manager for the Cotton Board, and we began lining up Southeast producers for them to visit. Our first stop was Warbington Farms in Vienna, Ga., where we met George “Teel” Warbington, who serves as a Cotton Board member for the state of Georgia.
He graciously welcomed us to his farm and showed the group his entire operation. The Missouri producers were introduced to “ground zero” for resistant pigweed, because the first reported case was filed from a farm directly across the road from Warbing-ton’s headquarters.
Teel explained the problems and unique issues when trying to establish irrigation and gain access to a consistent water source. Our conversation soon shifted to varieties that are preferred in the Southeast, and how they differed from varieties used in the Mid-South.
Teel said it best when he stated, “The various growing regions across the Cotton Belt are so diverse, I never cease to be amazed how other growers operate. Having a small group of growers like this makes it extremely personal and allows more one-on-one interaction.”
In addition to meeting with Teel, the Missourians spent time with former National Cotton Council Chairman Chuck Coley. They visited his gin and toured his operation in Vienna, Ga., as well. From there, we traveled to Leary, Ga., to meet with Bob McLendon and Jimmy Webb. They were fantastic hosts, and after touring their operations, we were honored to have dinner at Mr. McLendon’s well-known barn, where he invited several of the producers with whom we visited throughout the day – including Cotton Incorporat-ed Director Ronnie Lee and Georgia cotton producer Chad Mathis.
While visiting with Mr. Lee, he showed us his ginning operation, McCleskey Cotton Company, in Bronwood, Ga., where he recently installed the newest version of the Signode bale wrapping system.
A True Learning Experience
Our last stop was a visit with Walt Corcoran, in Eufaula, Ala. Corcoran is Alabama’s Cotton Board member and explained the diversity among his crops – cotton, peanuts and corn – and how and why they select the crops they do. It was a whirlwind trip and “crash course” in Southeastern agriculture.
Patrick Turnage admitted the trip was like drinking from a fire hose because of all the information, but all three Missourians came away with an appreciation for what cotton farmers in the Southeast face.
From irrigation and plant bugs to pigweed and their unique growing season, it was a true learning and eye-opening experience.
Bobby Skeen is the Cotton Board’s Regional Communication Manager for the Mid-South region. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.