They rode into Cary, N.C., from all over – “young guns” looking to quench their thirst for knowledge, not to mention finding out what was happening with their money.
When they left town a couple of days later, they were more than satisfied that it was being put to good use. They got the low-down on ring spinning, dyeing and finishing of cotton fiber and even something called 3-D denim jeans. Good stuff. New stuff that would keep cotton competitive and profitable for them.
There would be no need to slap leather tonight.
All kidding aside, this wasn’t your usual cotton producer tour of Cotton Incorporated’s North Carolina research facility. The “Young Guns Tour” was for young cotton producers in their 20s and 30s, with long careers, perhaps even leadership roles, ahead of them. Most of them are already solid cotton producers, but perhaps still a little wet behind the ears when it comes to understanding the various organizations supporting the U.S. cotton industry.
“The national average median age of farmers is over 57,” noted Brad Robb, vice president of communications for the Memphis-based Cotton Board. “The Young Guns Tour was created to show young cotton producers the global impact the (producer-funded) Cotton Research & Promotion Program makes on their behalf to keep their operations not only profitable but sustainable for the long term — while also hopefully shoring up their support for this program.”
For Mead Hardwick, son of Jay Hardwick, a Newellton, La., cotton producer and current chairman of Cotton Incorporated, the tour was another small step toward a return home to his father’s operation after a stint in commercial real estate in Dallas, Texas.
“My wife and I are currently trying to unwind our existing careers in Dallas, but we’re on a glide path (to get back to the farm) of anywhere between 12 months and 18 months.”
Mead will be joined on the farm by his brother, Marshall, who currently is working on a master’s degree in agronomy from Louisiana State University. “Hopefully, I’ll be on the farm in the very near future,” Mead said. “We want to work alongside Dad for as long as we can.”
Mead and Marshall grew up on their father’s farm, “so we’re very closely related to the industry,” Mead said. “When I move back home, I’m going to get more hands-on from an ownership perspective. I want to be involved from beginning to end. We’re looking forward to that and the lifestyle that brings.”
Mead said the Cotton Incorporated tour “was something I really wanted to do to find out where our dollars go and to understand what the program does for the industry as a whole, to learn what this organization is all about.
“Obviously it’s very first class. It’s a really professional organization and they’re really out there championing the cause of cotton. It’s important to have that voice. That’s what has resonated with me, knowing that there is a spokesman for our industry.”
Hardwick and his wife, Felicia, have one son, William Mead Hardwick Jr., who just turned 2, and another son on the way.
Wren Felts farms about 2,000 acres of cotton, rice, milo and soybeans with his father, Benton, and grandfather, Don, near Joiner, Ark. He said his father participated in a Cotton Incorporated tour 15 years ago and again this February. “He told me how interesting it was and how much I would learn. The cotton industry is changing every day. You have to keep up.”
After listening to a research presentation one morning, Felts said, “I didn’t know so many big names were involved in cotton, like Under Armor and its Charged Cotton product. That was amazing to me.”
Felts said the tour drove home the fact that synthetic fibers are cotton’s biggest competitive threat. “It’s not just other countries, weeds and pests. It’s trying to get cotton marketed right.”
David Taylor farms a 5,500-acre row crop operation along with 400 head of cattle, around Como, Miss., with his father, Sledge. He wasn’t sure if he could afford to leave the farming operation this month, “but my wife, Allison, and I decided it was only two days, we could spend some time together, and we could learn a little about the cotton industry.”
The tour “stimulated me to ask questions that I’ve often thought about in the past. For example, we get docked for high micronaire. I want the mill to show me why. I want to see the complications that arise from that and things like high leaf content.”
Like so many other older generation farmers, Taylor’s father did not want his son to work on the farm, citing the extreme risk of farming. As a result, David worked in the West for a few years before returning home.
“Dad had three sons, and I was the one who really always loved to farm. It just feels like what I’m supposed to do. I thought about aviation. I have my pilot’s license. But I’ve always loved farming.”
David and Allison have a 20-month old son, David Sledge Taylor Jr., who they call Sledge.
David Crump, who farms dryland and irrigated cotton, south of Ralls, Texas, around the edge of the Caprock, said of the tour, “I had to drop everything to come, but I knew it would be interesting.
“To me, being a non-profit organization, I didn’t realize how much Cotton Incorporated was doing to create profits. They are definitely using the money for our benefit. It’s not just a dollar-a-bale going out the window. It’s going to help us and keep cotton strong.”