Brad Williams said he wasn’t very receptive when asked about participating in a new program for Delta and Pine Land cotton growers in 2006-07.
“I’m not one to do test or plot work because it is just so time-consuming for our operation,” said Williams, who at the time was farming 18,000 acres of cotton with his father-in-law, Richard Kelley, and brother-in-law, Michael Roane.
Monsanto rep “Joe Roberts told me, ‘I really think you need to do this,’ and it’s worked extremely well,” said Williams. “One thing that I insisted on was I wanted to do it my way, I wanted to put it in a real-life producer’s situation.”
The program was Monsanto’s New Product Evaluator or NPE program, which will complete its 10th year in 2017. Williams’ farm was one of 148 farms that began the program, evaluating candidates for the Class of 2009 for Monsanto and Delta and Pine. The program now has about 200 farms participating in the annual evaluations of new products.
But it’s become more than a way for Monsanto to line up producers to look at its new varieties. It also became a networking opportunity for growers both within their own regions and across the Cotton Belt.
Became a mainstay
“The first variety out was Deltapine 0912,” said Williams. “We planted it and put it right beside a Stoneville variety and Phytogen 375. It became a variety that in 2009 and 2010 became our mainstay; it became one of our more popular varieties.”
Williams said the NPE program has allowed producers to evaluate what works best in their region and for each individual grower.
“The program came along at a time when it was tough in the cotton industry,” he said. “But the ones who have stayed with cotton have benefited from this program so much. I think it kept us in business in a lot of ways.
“We were all striving for higher-yielding, better-quality cotton, and from my ginners’ perspective we were looking for bigger seed. We’ve had smaller seed cotton, and we’ve had bigger seed. We would voice those concerns, and we felt like we’ve been heard. This program has helped you stay on the cutting edge of the changes.”
Williams said he and his partners have seen three major variety changes while they’ve been in the program — Deltapine 0912, Deltapine 1321 and Deltapine 1522. “Those have been our main three in the last 10 years.”
Give it another chance
Other varieties that might have fallen by the wayside have stayed in the pipeline because NPE producers kept asking for more testing.
“One variety, Deltapine 1518, was brought through the program,” he said. “There was a lot of concern about it, and a lot of people didn’t like it. But the producers were heard, and they kept it in the tests and now that variety is very popular around here on irrigated and river bottom ground.”
Williams grew three Deltapine experimental varieties in the NPE program in 2017. One is a nematode-resistant variety and the other two are Bollgard 3 Xtend Flex varieties. One or more could exchange their experimental numbers for a new variety number for 2018.
The varieties were grown next to each other in the center of a field, surrounded by the Deltapine 1522B2XF variety under the same management system he and his partners used on their farms in a five-county area of west Tennessee.
That doesn’t mean Williams isn’t open to other ideas about how to grow them.
Opportunity to network
“When you go to the NPE Summit meeting at the end of the year and in the conference calls with other producers — especially in the north Delta — you’re dealing with southeast Missouri, northeast Arkansas and west Tennessee,” he said.
“We all have different type ground, but we all have seen the same characteristics. You find one producer is doing one type of management, and you think maybe I need to look at that. So you learn from each other during the program about what works. I picked up tips from guys for pigweed control that we’ve implemented in our operations. It’s a great way to interact with other producers because we’re all working toward the same goal.”
Williams took some interesting twists and turns on his way to becoming a cotton producer. After growing up and working on his grandfather’s cotton farm in Mason, Tenn., Williams enrolled at the University of Memphis to get a degree in finance. He had no intention of going back to the farm.
During his senior year he went to work part-time for a cotton merchant on Front Street in Memphis. As a “squidge,” he learned how to hand-class cotton and some of the other intricacies of buying and selling cotton.
“I learned so much in the eight to 10 months of that job,” he said. “I finished my degree and went to work for Staplcotn as a field rep for northeast Arkansas and the Missouri Bootheel from 1992 to 1995, and learned a lot more about cotton.”
Williams met his wife, Kerry Kelley, in college, and they married in 1996. His father-in-law, Richard Kelley, was expanding his operation and asked Brad to come on board to manage his warehouse and gin. Later, he moved back into growing the cotton.
Asked about whether he thought the NPE program would last 10 years, Williams said, “In a way, I didn’t. I thought maybe it was a one- or two-year program. I think it came at a time that benefitted the cotton industry. I was proud that someone like Deltapine Monsanto stayed with us, and we worked through the situation.
“That’s part of what being a farmer is — you’re dealt a situation like we faced in 2008-09, and you learn to adapt and overcome that situation. I think we worked hand-in-hand with this project. I know 10 years went by awful quick. You blinked and 10 years were gone.
“It’s by far, in my career, the best program I’ve seen between a producer and a supplier. It’s been a blessing for both; been well-received by both; and I hope to see it last another 10 years. I’m glad I listened to Joe and decided to participate.”
For more information on the NPE program, visit https://www.aganytime.com/deltapine/npe/Pages/default.aspx.