It is May 10, and we are desperately trying to plant our research plots before the wonderful April moisture evaporates. We employ a crude, but effective, method of marking plots, using tape measures, garden stakes, twine stretched between two boards, coffee cans attached to broom handles and powdered chalk. It becomes quite challenging in sustained 35 mph winds with gusts up to 60.
I think, “There has to be a better way,” and I am sure my students and research associates are thinking the same thing, especially Joe Flores, who keeps chasing coffee can lids across the field.
It reminds me of the brutal summer days hoeing cotton with my sisters when we would entertain each other with stories of “better ways.” As a future engineering major, I came up with solutions like air-conditioned bubbles floating over the fields with hoe handles protruding from the bottom that would automatically sense the weeds. Not being in the field was not an option, so the bubble had a real swimming pool (not the horse trough Dad would fill from the irrigation ditch) and a refrigerator full of cola, which we were normally not allowed to drink.
I did not imagine the technological advances in plant-based biotechnology solutions that would obviate large hoeing crews (five sisters made a large crew). But someone did imagine it. Each time a seemingly insurmountable problem presents itself, a solution seems to emerge.
Just when I graduated from high school and told Dad I would not be tromping cotton in the fall, he bought a module builder. It was an elegant solution to the cotton handling problem, just not the one I imagined. I used to marvel at Dad and Uncle Henry, partners in their farming operation, when they irrigated from ditches with curved metal tubes. They never had to speak to each other, just count rows, dam the ditch, throw out the tubes and magically make water go down the rows in a kind of beautiful choreographed dance.
I moved back to the farm two years ago, and now the irrigation comes from subsurface drip tapes that someone calibrates somewhere, and the cotton grows beautifully – just one solution to water conservation. My father keeps lamenting to his renters that he wishes he were still young enough to farm in this day and age. Uncle Henry could calculate the money we lost accidentally killing cotton while attempting to hoe thorny weeds, which is probably why we called him Henny Penny.
My sisters are medical professionals and academics. When my oldest sister, who worked grounds maintenance at Texas Tech University through her undergraduate years, announced that she was coming home to farm, my father appeared stunned and told her, “You are really not smart enough to be a farmer; you should apply to medical school.”
She did and is now a professor at the Texas Tech medical school but has a garden in her back yard big enough to feed a small town. Just like Kit, I get the most joy from my job by imagining what my students will come up with to improve the cotton industry or their industry of choice.
Brad Harris imagines triangulated GPS systems as we stretch twine across 40 rows in 30 mph winds; Carol Kelly, post-doctoral fiber quality expert, imagines yield monitors; and Alexa Ray Roberts, Ag Leadership, provides an example to everyone by never complaining and respectfully trying to keep chalk off my shoes despite the wind.
Because of them, I cannot imagine doing anything else. The basic principle of variety improvement remains the same, but technological advances promise designer crops we can only imagine now.
I may be retired by the time that occurs, but I love to imagine the inspiration of my students keeping our cotton industry strong well into the future.
– Jane Dever, Lubbock, Texas