J.C. Banks, Oklahoma State University’s Extension cotton specialist for the last 22 years, retires at the end of this month and says retiring is bittersweet. “One part of me says to stay on and see where cotton farming goes next. But another part says it’s time to move on.”
Banks moved to Altus, Oklahoma, where he serves as Resident Director of the Southwest Oklahoma Research and Extension Center as well as the state cotton specialist, in 1988 from Greenfield, Indiana, where he was a field representative for Eli Lilly.
“Moving to Altus as the state cotton specialist gave me an opportunity to get off the road.” he says.
It also brought him home. Banks grew up on a cotton and grain farm near Dell City. “It was an average farm for the time, about 300 acres, but would be small today.”
He thought about trying to farm for a living but realized that 300 acres was not enough to support multiple families. His father encouraged him to go to college. He started out at Lawton Community College and then earned his BS, MS and PhD degrees from Oklahoma State.
Banks has seen a lot of changes in cotton production in 22 years. The most dramatic has been improved production.
“Oklahoma’s history of cotton production has been one of acreage and yield crashes,” he says, “until about 1997. Then acreage and production started climbing again. “The big difference between 2009 and 1990 is that we are growing half as much acreage and making twice as much cotton.”
He says four reasons account for the improvement—boll weevil eradication, GMO cotton, no-till production and advances in equipment.
Banks says the biggest challenge he’s faced in 22 years as Oklahoma’s cotton specialist has been “trying to keep up with industry and the best growers,” as technology and innovations came on rapidly.
Variety development, for instance, has changed cotton farming. “When I started, variety recommendations didn’t change much,” Banks says. “We were using the same varieties for 10 or 15 years. We could do variety tests and accumulate data over a three-year period. Now, a variety may not be in the market for three years before something new replaces it.”
Banks says one of the constants during his 22-year tenure as a cotton specialist has been the people he’s worked with.
“Farmers are just good people,” he says. “I’ve worked with the best people in the world. Often, I started out on a professional basis and then farmers turned out to be good friends.”
He says his colleagues at Oklahoma State also deserve a lot of credit. “I’ve been blessed with really good secretaries,” he says. “And I really needed them. And I have always had good, dedicated people here at the station.”
Banks says support for his programs from OSU administration has been exceptional.
He says he’s been fortunate to watch a dramatic transformation in the cotton industry. He worked with his father just as cotton strippers were replacing hand-picking and has watched the industry evolve with herbicide and pest resistant varieties and GPS technology.
“I’ve also worked with grandfathers whose sons came back to farm and am now seeing grandsons coming back. I’ve witnessed an amazing amount of information transfer from one generation to the next.
“I’m seeing more young people come back to the farm, usually after they get a college education. This new generation is helping with business and management skills and they are not intimidated by technology.”
Banks says he’s “fired up” about retirement, something he and his wife Renee’ have anticipated for the last ten years.
“I’ve had as good a career as anyone could want,” he says.
For a more detailed look at J.C. Banks’ 22-year tenure as Oklahoma’s cotton specialist, see the full article in the June issue of Southwest Farm Press.