A Labor of Love: Family Cotton Operation Rooted In Scarlet & Black
Sept. 18, 2013
by Britton Drown
FARWELL, Texas - A towering bright white wind generator rotates uninterrupted on the wide Texas horizon. The massive blades, three of them, powered by the ever consistent South Plains wind replace one-another in a steady and quiet motion.
The swooping blades can be seen for miles around the town of Farwell, Texas as a caravan of vehicles splinter the morning's silence. On this late August morning, it's where the Williams family is headed. Directly behind their caravan, two dark red Case cotton sprayers rumble along the empty streets.
Any other summer morning, the Williams would crisscross the gird system of Farwell en route to their family farm. One right turn, followed by a left. A few more miles and they arrive as the vehicles now sit beneath the shadow of that tall wind generator.
Today though, Ryan Williams quickly gets to work on something else. "We can't have a careless weed back here," he says, pulling a handful of weeds otherwise swallowed by the tall cotton stems stretching as far as the eye can see in every direction.
Ryan embodies all that makes this family one of the top cotton growers in the region. He's a perfectionist, ensuring the area immediately surrounding his father Mark is clear as he sits for an interview about his farm, which rests just a few miles east of the New Mexico border. It's that attention to detail that has made Ryan, who was recognized in 2010 as a National Outstanding Young Farmer, and the Williams family so successful.
On Saturday, in harmony with the cotton harvest season, Texas Tech is set to celebrate the prominence of the cotton industry on the South Plains with the annual Celebrate Cotton game as the Red Raiders face Texas State at Jones AT&T Stadium. The Williams family is just one of a myriad of cotton growers on the High Plains that help drive the backbone of the Lubbock and West Texas community.
The Texas High Plains is the largest contiguous cotton patch in the world, while Texas is the No. 1 cotton-producing state in the nation. Most cotton on the High Plains is planted in May and harvested in the fall - typically in October and November. A single 500-pound bale of cotton will make over 200 pairs of jeans, 249 bed sheets, more than 1,200 pillow cases and much more.
"High Plains cotton has come a long way in terms of quality, especially in the last decade," Steve Verett, Executive Vice President of Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., said. "It's because of the research efforts at Texas Tech and the partnerships throughout this industry that our cotton now holds incredible value in the world market. It is efforts like this that put cotton in the spotlight, which will pay dividends in the months and years to come."
Ryan and the Williams family attended the Celebrate Cotton game last year as the Red Raiders defeated New Mexico 49-14 at Jones AT&T Stadium. Not only are they highly successful cotton farmers, but they also are avid supporters of Texas Tech and the Red Raider football team.
Mark Williams, Ryan's father, was particularly impressed with the recognition and support the cotton industry received last September.
"I was just impressed by the sponsors and visiting with several other cotton farmers," Mark said. "It's a great way to support Texas Tech and support the cotton industry. It was just a great way to celebrate cotton - that's what I thought it was. A celebration."
Williams, his wife Joyce, and their three sons each graduated from Texas Tech. Now, they farm more than 60,000 acres of land that was settled by his grandfather more than 80 years ago. They also recently purchased 6,000 acres in Dalhart, Texas.
Outside of their success on the farm, Texas Tech football is a passion shared by many of the cotton growers along the High Plains.
"A lot of farmers probably shut down their harvesters to come to football games," Williams said. "It's just a great big part of Lubbock to have Texas Tech there, and cotton is a very big part of Lubbock. So it's just a perfect synergy between the two."
For Ryan's brother Russell, that industry, and the chance to work alongside his family members is exactly what drove him back to Farwell after a highly-successful young career in regulatory affairs with Farm Bureau and agricultural politics in Washington, D.C.
While with Farm Bureau, Russell was principally involved with biotechnology, international trade and global environmental agreements including discussions around global warming. The career took him around the world where he spread his knowledge of agriculture for the benefit of the industry on an international scene. But something tugged at him to return to his roots in Farwell.
"It made me not only miss my family," Russell, who graduated from Texas Tech with a double major in business and Spanish, said. "But it made me miss the family farm." When the Williams family purchased their second farm in Dalhart, Texas they needed someone to oversee it, and Russell seized the opportunity.
"I jumped all over it," he said.
With it, Russell returned to his family, and the family farm. Since returning home, and helping to establish the new cotton farm, he is quick to attribute their success as a family to their closeness.
"It's extremely important," Russell said. "For not only our family, but for a family-run business. Having the love that we have for one another, and having the love for farming - it mingles together and helps to create a great operation."
And Saturday, the Williams family is looking to celebrate not only their success, but that of the entire High Plains Cotton Growers community.
"It's about the entire community," Russell said. "What drives businesses and families to the community is agriculture. It's a progressive, technologically advanced operation and we're at the forefront of it today. Being able to show people who may have a misconception of that and to show it to them is important."
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