If you spend enough time in agriculture – and cotton, specifically – you will occasionally meet industry leaders, remember their contributions and cherish the time you spent with them. Sometimes you might even be fortunate enough to develop a friendship along the way. In the case of cotton and soybean producer Andrew Whisenhunt of Bradley, Ark., we had known each other for barely a year. But it seemed much longer.
In all the time that I’ve been a part of the cotton industry – 25 years to be exact – I have never known of a more generous, affable farmer than Andrew. And when I heard the news that he had passed away at age 79 on May 30, it was hard to believe. We had communicated regularly since August of 2009 when he made an unexpected phone call to the Cotton Farming office.
He had called to say how much he enjoyed our cover story on Sen. Blanche Lincoln, and what a dear friend the senator had been to him during his years as president of Arkansas Farm Bureau. The conversation, however, quickly turned to farming, and he said that I needed to pack a suitcase and drive 300 miles to Bradley. He desperately wanted me to see what he thought would be a four-to-five bale cotton crop.
A four-to-five bale cotton crop in Arkansas? Was this some kind of practical joke? I thought those kinds of cotton yields only occurred in California, Arizona or Texas. When he made that statement, it immediately aroused my curiosity. Still, I was looking at a six-hour drive to the southwestern corner of the state – a remote area I had never visited. Looking back now, I’m glad he talked me into making the trip. We gladly featured him on the cover of Cotton Farming in October of 2009, and the trip was memorable in so many ways.
This congenial farmer, who was on a first-name basis with every governor, senator and congressman in Arkansas for the past 25 years, did more than show me his spectacular looking cotton. He and his wife Polly practically adopted me for the weekend. We journeyed to their favorite seafood restaurant for dinner across the the state line in Louisiana. We looked at family scrapbooks, newspaper clippings and photos of their children. Andrew took me on a tour of Civil War cemeteries, the fishing pond in his front yard and shared the rich history of his beloved Bradley. In 48 hours, I received a crash course on everything that was important to him.
This was a Southern gentleman who loved representing Arkansas agriculture as he traveled the world on trade missions, and he never met a stranger. When I think of an optimistic outlook on life and the promise of better days ahead, I’ll always think of Andrew Whisenhunt, the best friend that Arkansas farmers ever had.
And someone I was also proud to call a friend.
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