When Carl Anderson was just a little boy he spent a good bit of time riding the back of his mother's cotton sack as she moved through the fields of the Texas Blacklands harvesting the year's crop. At the time, he had no idea that he'd be immersed in cotton for most of his life
And when he learned to walk and to drag his own picker sack through the fields, cotton may have been near the bottom of his list of career choices. “I had a rather low opinion of cotton at the time.”
Today, he says he's extremely fortunate to have spent most of his career, the last 25 years, as a Texas Extension cotton marketing specialist, a job for which he was recently honored with a Texas A&M Cooperative Extension Superior Service Award.
Anderson, one of the most respected cotton market analysts in the country was selected in the distinguished career category.
“I am deeply honored,” he said.
The GI Bill of Rights got him off the farm. “When the Korean Conflict flared I joined up,” he recalls. When his military obligation was up, he took advantage of the $90 per month the GI Bill offered.
“For $90 a month I could pay room and board and tuition at Texas A&M,” he said. “I was too poor to go to college but the GI Bill gave a lot of farm boys an opportunity to get an education.”
Anderson said both he and the government came out ahead on that deal. “Uncle Sam invested a total of $3,600 through the GI Bill and I pay that and more each year in taxes so it was a good investment for both of us.”
He made the best of the investment, graduated in 1958 and earned a stipend to do graduate work at Louisiana State University. He earned his doctorate at Texas A&M in 1969. His degrees are in agricultural economics.
Anderson served as an adult education specialist Texas A&M from 1960 through 1966. “I worked through the agricultural economics department and the agricultural education department to set up workshops all over the state.
He moved to Dallas after receiving his Ph.D. and served as a senior economist for the Federal Reserve Bank from 1969 until 1978.
“I learned a lot with the Fed,” he says, “especially in communications. Some of the editors I worked with in the Dallas area taught me a lot about the difference between technical communications and writing for a lay audience. That information has helped me explain my programs throughout my career.”
He says former Southwest Farm Press editor Calvin Pigg was a mentor and also recruited him to serve as president of the Dallas Agriculture Club.
“But when I had the opportunity to come back to College Station and get back to my roots in agriculture I took it,” he says. “I was thrilled to be the Texas cotton marketing specialist.”
He's served in that capacity ever since.
”I hope I have encouraged a few farmers to pay more attention to marketing cotton and hope I've helped some make a better living.” He says he's always pleased to her from farmers who have benefited from his recommendations and recalls that several farmers recently have acknowledged that hedging government payments paid off for them this year.
Amazed at honors
A humble man, Anderson admits to being “amazed at some of the honors he's received over the years. He was the Progressive Farmer Man of the Year in Southwest agriculture in 1996 and received the Cotton Extension Education Award from the Cotton Foundation in 1994.
But he says one of the highest honors he's received is inclusion in the Taylor High School Hall of Fame, an honor he received because his classmates nominated him. “I am humbled that they remembered the little farm boy who went to school with them.”
He says his six-year tenure as a public member of the New York Cotton Exchange qualifies as one of his top a career highlights. He says getting to know merchants, textiles executives and others in the cotton industry provided him with information he uses in his job.
“I've been able to gain new perspectives on the industry,” he says. “I've learned a little bit about how traders think and I'm able to use that in my programs.”
He says such exposure also has helped him develop good relationships with the media. He considers a reporter from Reuters a “good friend.” He also has good relationships with reporters from other mainstream news agencies as well as throughout the agricultural media.
Anderson says the cotton industry he knew as a boy bears little resemblance to what farmers face today.
Lot of benchmarks
“I remember when tractors and mechanical harvesters first started coming in thinking that we had progressed as far as we could go with cotton technology,” he says. “We were just getting started. I've seen a lot of benchmarks in the last 50 years.”
The stripper was a big one. “I remember very well when strippers were commercially available,” he says. “It was 1952.”
That also marked the last cotton crop of his own he harvested. “I went into the service that year and the GI Bill changed my life,” he says.
He also recalls the 1949 crop, which he says was a good one. “I remember we wanted to pick a bale a day so we could gin out of the wagon at night,” he says.
He says Blacklands cotton farmers raised more than one million acres of cotton when he was growing up. This year acreage is 120,000. He recalls that yield on many farms consistently held around 250 pounds per acre or less.
“We're no longer in a position to get by on yields that low,” he says. “Land that will not produce more than a bale per acre probably is in another crop by now.
“Cotton will continue to be an important crop for the area,” he says. “We won't see a million acres again, but a few farmers will do very well with cotton.”
The entire industry, he says, must adapt to a global market system. “We currently depend on exports so our farmers must be more competitive. Successful farmers must be on the cutting edge of technology, either with better marketing strategies or with varieties.”
He says initiatives such as marketing clubs and the agri-marketing network give producers access to market movements and catalysts.
“The agri-network allows members of marketing clubs to call in and hear some of the industry's most respected analysts discuss outlooks,” he says.
Anderson's opinion of cotton has improved considerably over the years and admits to feeling honored to have been part of many of the changes in production and marketing that have taken place in the past half-century.
“I am gratified for the opportunities I've had in the industry,” he said. “I just hope I've been able to contribute a little bit to the betterment of cotton. I have a lot of friends in cotton and I understand that producers invest a lot of money in their crops. I hope I can provide information that will help them make sound decisions.”