The view from Larry McClendon’s office can be breathtaking in early October — even for someone who’s not a cotton farmer. When he or his employees or guests step onto the front porch of his farm’s headquarters building near Marianna, Ark., they see nearly a mile of white stretching almost to the horizon.

What’s even more amazing in this era of declining cotton acres in the Mississippi Delta is that the sweeping view doesn’t encompass all the cotton McClendon is growing — all told, his operation had nearly 6,000 acres of cotton in 2015.

Those acres are part of a highly diversified cotton, corn, soybean, grain sorghum, and rice operation that McClendon manages, along with two gins and a cotton warehouse. While he doesn’t like to talk about size, it’s generally acknowledged he has more than 20,000 acres under cultivation.

You don’t have to spend much time on his farm to realize that, despite its size, he is a very “hands-on” manager, which includes making extensive use of minimum tillage, cover crops, and other conservation practices to protect soil and water.

His stewardship of the environment, his conservation ethic, and his years of service to the cotton industry have earned him the 2016 Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award for the Delta region.


He and winners from the three other regions of the cotton belt will be honored at the High Cotton awards breakfast Friday, Feb. 26. The event will be held for the first time at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show at Memphis. The awards program is sponsored by Farm Press Publications through a grant to The Cotton Foundation.

To understand McClendon’s attention to detail and his love of the land and farming, you have to consider where he started.

“My family members were working class,” he told a group of growers from Texas and Oklahoma who toured his farm during a stop on the National Cotton council’s Producer Information Exchange program last August.

“I started farming in 1975 with about 200 acres of rented land. We were able to add more acres over time, and then to buy some land. I survived the 1980s — a horrible time here. We muddled through, but a lot of people went broke. I was probably broke and just didn’t realize it.”

In the 1990s in the Delta, he says, “Cotton really took off. I rented this Soudan Farms (where his headquarters are located) in 1987, and in 1990 I got my first gin. By 2006, there were 5 million acres of cotton in the Delta. This year, there are probably less than a million. It’s been a wild ride up for cotton — and a wild ride down.”

Through the 1990s and early 2000s, McClendon continued to buy land around Marianna in Lee County in eastern Arkansas. He now owns about a third of the land he farms.