What is in this article?:
• Ronnie Lee has been named the 2010 Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award winner for the Southeast region.
• Ronnie Lee Farms, at Bronwood in southwest Georgia, grows 3,500 to 4,200 acres of cotton, 900 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat, and has a cow-calf operation. It also includes McCleskey Cotton Company, a ginning and warehousing operation, and RCL Flying Service, an agricultural aerial spraying business. In addition, the operation does custom harvesting.
• Ronnie Lee is quick to point out that it’s truly a family operation — son Ron operates the gin and markets the crop, son Neil runs the day-to-day farming operation, and son Chandler also works in the farming enterprise.
Compares pigweed problem to boll weevil
“I consider the pigweed problem as similar to the boll weevil,” Ronnie says. “There are just so many seeds per plant — as hard as we try, we can’t keep all of our field ends mowed to prevent every seed from germinating. Resistance travels through the pollen, and I don’t know how we’ll solve the problem without some sort of eradication-type mentality, because there will always be some farmers who won’t do what needs to be done.”
With a new farm bill on the horizon, he also is concerned about how future legislation might define a family farm.
“I have a family farming operation, but it shouldn’t matter about its size — rather, it has to be considered as an economic unit. No one tells a doctor how many patients he can see, and no one tells a drugstore chain how many stores they can operate.
“When we buy a cotton picker, we figure we have to use it on a minimum of 2,500 acres. They don’t make them any smaller or cheaper. So, we have to become bigger to stay in business and control costs.”
Sons Neil and Chandler head a harvesting crew that uses four six-row John Deere pickers with onboard module builders. He leases pickers on a yearly basis, believing that running new equipment is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce downtime and increase production efficiency.
The current run-up in cotton prices certainly is good for growers, and he hopes it will continue.
“We don’t know how well demand will hold up in this economy, but I think we’ll get at least a couple of years of good prices. Farmers will grow a lot of cotton, but they’ll also grow a lot of corn, especially if it stays in the $5 range. Corn is an easy, quick crop to grow, and we now have the infrastructure for it. Cotton is expensive and intensive to grow in the Southeast. For the past two years, I feel our operation has been as stable a business as there is out there — but we’re still not making any money.”
Ronnie markets his cotton crop through several venues; a portion of it is marketed with Staplcotn through its seasonal pool option and another part through several U.S. merchandising companies via forward basis contracting.
Ronnie and his wife, Nancy, have five grandchildren. He is a producer delegate to the National Cotton Council, a board member of Cotton Incorporated, American Cotton Producers, and Southern Cotton Growers, Inc., and is chairman of the Georgia State Committee of the FSA.