Wannamaker has been doing variety trials for Deltapine and provides feedback to the company as it evaluates new varieties to bring to the market each year. Last year, he did similar variety trials for Stoneville and Phytogen.

“We do most of these tests in module plots, which allows us to take a certain acreage of land, weigh the cotton, gin it, and calculate final turnout. This gives us a better comparison of varieties than we would get in smaller plots or side-by-side tests.”

Another big change in the cotton business in recent years has been the development of on-board module pickers.

But while Wannamaker says, “We will probably always grow a lot of cotton,” he still wants the flexibility to change, if markets dictate it.

“The cost of the new pickers almost requires that you grow about 2,000 acres of cotton for it to pay, and I don’t want to be locked into growing 2,000 acres of cotton.”

The on-board module pickers would allow him to reduce his labor force, he says, but right now he is blessed with good labor. “I remember how hard it was when I first started farming, so I’m always looking to the younger generation to find people interested in farming. I have three young men working for me now, and they can do anything in our farming operation.

“With all the new technology we have available, farm operations can be much more precise. These young men grew up with computers and they’re comfortable with GPS-guided tractors and all the new technology. Having qualified people to put this equipment to good use is a blessing.”

He recalls that when he started growing peanuts in 2002, he suffered big harvest losses because he couldn’t see the rows to dig his crop. He invested in a RTK-guidance system and has subsequently bought a second system. Adapting GPS technology for use in cotton and grain production has made those operations run more smoothly, he says.

For the foreseeable future, Wannamaker says, cotton will likely be a big part of his farming operation.

“It appears much of the safety net cotton farmers have had in the past will be gone in the future — and that’s troubling,” he says. “Crop insurance is better than nothing, but it’s not all that farmers need to keep risks at a manageable level.”

In 2002, farmers in and around Calhoun County, S.C., suffered through a drought that nearly put him and others out of business. Since then, he has looked closely at crop insurance, and it has helped in some years.

However, he says, recouping the maximum amount from a crop failure — typically 75 percent of crop value — only allows a farmer to keep farming; it doesn’t cover his costs.

Over the years, Wannamaker has developed a marketing strategy that helps him to reduce some of the risk in farming. For the past few years, he has subscribed to Pinnacle Marketing Service, which provides key marketing information that allows him do a limited amount of hedging of his crops. He forward contracts his cotton, or sells it on recaps after the crop is ginned, which has helped him get optimum prices.

Seven years ago, he switched to strip-tillage on all his cotton land and says the change has been amazing — dramatically increasing water infiltration and reducing water runoff and erosion.

“I used to need diversions and terraces,” he says, “but I don’t any more, unless we get 3-4 inches of rain at once. We have about 900 acres of irrigation, and even on that land, we can tell the difference from strip-tillage.”

From his earliest days in farming, Wannamaker has been a good steward of the land. He was named South Carolina Conservationist of the Year in 2004, and currently serves as a commissioner with the Calhoun County Soil and Water Conservation District.

In 2008, he was named South Carolina Farmer of the Year by Swisher International. He currently serves as an officer on the Southern Cotton Growers Inc. board and is a delegate to the National Cotton Council.

In giving back to his community, he has served for many years on the Calhoun County Clemson Extension Advisory Committee and on the administrative board of St. Paul United Methodist Church in St. Matthews.

He and Mary Lil have a daughter, Lindsey, who works with AFLAC insurance company in Columbia, S.C., and a son, Kendall, who is in his first year of medical school at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

 “When I went out on my own in farming in 1985, it was a scary thing,” Wannamaker says. “I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by good friends and good people to help in the day-to-day operation of our farming business, and it has all worked out well.”