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Faces of Cotton

Meet the Hollingsworths

Robert and Karen Hollingsworth Claude, Texas

By Kara Bishop

Three-year-old Robert Hollingsworth gets up early Saturday morning. It’s time to check on his crops. He pulls his little boots on and heads outside to start up his tricycle. He’s planted some wheat and hay grazer in some rows he set up in the front yard, much to his daddy’s dismay. It’s wet and muddy this morning — a little too treacherous for a tricycle ride. Little Robert stares at his trike and thinks. He has to check his crops, and while he could just walk the ten feet over there, his daddy always drives out to the farm. So, he needs to drive out to his just like daddy does it.

Suddenly it comes to him. He finds some baling wire out in the garage and wraps his front tricycle tire in wire. He’ll cut some deep ruts in the yard, but he won’t get stuck. After all,

his horse needs hay so he must press on. At three years old, Robert has all the makings of an ingenious steward of the land. Just like his daddy.

Farming is all he knows and is all he has ever wanted to do. With 280 acres of land that his great-grandfather homesteaded in 1906, he dreamed of farming it like his father and grandfather before him.

But the challenges that plague farmers today were roadblocks for young producers like Robert back then as well. Access to land, crop prices and input costs kept Robert from making a true living off the land. He went to work for the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) in Panhandle, Texas, in 1982.

Stretched Thin
While he had a full-time job, Robert still wanted to farm. It was a punishing schedule during planting and harvest seasons.

8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. – work at TXDOT
7:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. – plow or plant at the farm
2:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m. – nap, shower and get ready for work

When he had a spare moment, he worked on his sons’ race cars and took them to races on the weekends.

“If I could get four hours of sleep a night, I felt pretty lucky,” he said.

Robert may have been stretched thin, but that didn’t make him mediocre. For TXDOT, he invented a lay-down machine that fits on the front of a maintainer for paving roads. Robert’s invention would lay the road automatically with very little shovel work involved. His lay-down contraption became a model and showpiece for other districts to copy and implement into their processes. Because his innovation reduced man hours and manpower needed, the state of Texas saved $30 million annually on road systems.

He competed in state and national events with his invention — and won, giving the $10,000 in proceeds to the West Texas A&M engineering program.

Second Chance
On January 1, 2009, Robert transferred to the Groom TXDOT office and became Karen’s boss.

Neither Robert nor Karen could have imagined their union taking place. Both were convinced they’d never marry again. Both were content with that.

Finding each other just happened.

“It was from the Lord,” Robert said.

“It was weird,” Karen added. “The first time we held hands, I just knew I had the right person. I would have married him right then had he asked me to.”

When Karen’s job in Groom became a district-wide position, she transferred to the Pampa office. Robert and Karen began dating at that time and married in 2010.

Enjoying the Reward
Today Robert and Karen live in a beautiful red barndominium they built five years ago after almost a decade of sketching, designing and dreaming.

“We laugh together, we cry together, we play hard, we work hard, and we just enjoy life.” Robert said. “The Lord has blessed us and provided all we have ever needed.”

They farm dryland milo, wheat, cotton and run a few cows. They love spending time with their grandchildren and the RV life — when time allows — working together, and playing pickle ball.

It took Robert years to acquire the land, equipment and assets needed to make farming work full time. He retired from TXDOT in 2012 and now does what he’s always wanted to do. Farm the land. While driving to a section outside of Claude, he said, “It took me 28 years to put this section of land together. I bought it piece by piece and had a couple of half circles sold out from under me a couple of times, but I finally got it.”

During Thanksgiving in 2016, Robert and Karen decided they were going to try growing cotton. Karen printed everything out she could find on it and made a book for Robert to study by the fire in the winter.

“I would cuss those boys around me for growing cotton, because I hated it so much,” Robert added. “We were grain farmers, so, when we decided it was a good idea to implement cotton into our rotation, I ate a lot of crow and apologized to every one of those guys. Cotton was just something we never thought we would grow, in fact, my dad would be rolling in his grave if he knew we were farming it today.”

Their 2017 crop was the best cotton crop they’ve harvested so far, producing 2.9 bales per acre of dryland cotton that year.

“The biggest things we learned were to not be afraid to plant that cotton seed a little deeper and to use plant growth regulator,” Karen said.

People often seem surprised at how well Robert and Karen work together. It’s not your typical husband/wife dynamic. But it’s not every day two people get a second chance at love, either. They’re grateful for each other and never take it for granted. They do it all, just the two of them, planting, spraying, harvesting year after year after year.

“We laugh together, we cry together, we play hard, we work hard, and we just enjoy life.” Robert said. “The Lord has blessed us and provided all we have ever needed.”The cotton they planted in late April came up and is still going strong.

“I have faith that the Lord will provide what I need,” Robert said. “He’s taken great care of me so far.”

You can’t ‘out-give’ the Lord.

You can tithe all you want to, but no matter how much you give Him, He’ll give you back ten-fold. And He always has.

The Life of Jane: From Childhood to Her 42nd Crop

By Kara Bishop

Three-year-old Jane Kveton
doesn’t care for the pieces of grass that float on the water and stick to her feet. As her father, John, turns the well on to water the lawn with irrigation pipe, she avoids the yard, running up and down the sidewalk splashing in the puddles.

Eight-year-old Jane
grips a sawed-off hoe handle on the family farm. The West Texas sun beating down on her as she weeds the “longest row in the world.”  She’s not really a fan of the outdoors, and her family lovingly refers to her as “Princess Jane.” Her Czech grandfather, Fred, shows up in the late afternoon to give her and the rest of the Kveton children peaches and beer to take home — much to the chagrin of Jane’s mother.

At 18 years old,
Jane is the 10th child her father will have sent to college. To help fund this endeavor, she applies for a scholarship with Southwest Textiles Inc. — a textile mill in Abernathy, Texas, where she and her family live on a 160-acre cotton farm. Receiving the scholarship meant earning her degree in textile engineering technology at Texas Tech University.

Her first class at TTU, the textile engineering department head asked how much a cotton bale weighed. Jane, who had grown up on a cotton farm, had no idea. “I knew how to hoe it, I didn’t know much about what happened after that,” Jane added. The professor chastised her in front of the entire class for growing up on a cotton farm and knowing so little about it. Joke’s on him.

Jane, now 20 years old,
is introduced to Roger Milliken — owner of the largest privately owned U.S. textile enterprise at the time — who is trying to recruit students to work at his new prestigious research facility. Except, he wanted them to research fiber replacements for cotton, because “it’s such a pain for the mills.” This was the first time Jane felt a passionate connection to cotton and began to realize how it had shaped her life up to this point.

22-year-old, Jane
graduates with her textile engineering degree and is accepted into an exclusive master’s degree program with the Institute of Textile Technology in Charlottesville, Virginia. They only accepted 10 students per year. She was the only TTU student selected and her department head was so excited. But Jane had other plans, wryly saying, “I decided to get married instead.”

Jane married James Dever in 1983 and the couple stayed in Lubbock. James worked for the Coca-Cola bottling company, while Jane had plans to follow her mother’s occupation as a partner to her husband at home. Her housewife status lasted four months.

Dr. John R. Gannaway had recently become the cotton breeder at the Lubbock Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and ambitiously had more than 1,000 crosses in the field in 1983. They were overwhelmed and needed help. One of the student workers from Texas A&M that was helping at the center that summer had grown up with Jane in Abernathy. “Can you come in and help self-pollinate?” he asked Jane on the phone. “You can be parttime and just help glue flowers shut in the afternoons.”

Video: Why Jane Loves Her Work.

At 22 years old,
Jane is a student worker at the Lubbock center and still has no idea who Dr. Gannaway is. She comes in at 1 p.m. — enters the lab, grabs her paper, tags, blue apron — and glues cotton blooms shut until 5 p.m.

One day while working, Jane is told, “Dr. Gannaway wants to see you.” When she entered his office, he held up a newsletter from the Texas Tech Textile Research Center and said, “Is this you?” She looked at the paper. It was titled, “Textile Topics,” and read, “Jane Kveton, winner of the Textile Veterans Association Award.” She was also named one of TTU’s outstanding engineering students. Her picture was at the top.

“That’s me,” Jane replied. “Kveton is my maiden name.”

“You have a degree in textiles?” Dr. Gannaway asked.


“Do you know anything about fiber quality?” he asked intensely.

“Of course,” she responded.

At the time, Gannaway was working with Joel Hembree with PCCA, Rex McKinney with Farmers Cooperative Compress and Don Johnson with Plains Cotton Growers Inc. to establish the Plains Cotton Improvement Program (PCIP). Jane was asked to help write up a fiber quality proposal for PCIP in 1983. While she initially worked on fiber quality projects at the Center until 1993, Jane would continue to follow the program for four decades, eventually coming back in 2008.

Between 1993 and 2008, Jane worked for the Textile Research Center at TTU, PCCA, BioTex, held a 25% appointment with the Extension AgriPartners program, and spent 10 years as an agronomist and global cotton breeding manager for FiberMax cottonseed. When John Gannaway retired in 2008, she returned as the Project Leader of the Lubbock Center cotton breeding program.

It’s 2023, Jane is working through her 42nd crop,
with a passion that has been aflame since childhood. We could go into great detail on Dr. Dever and her 42-year career that helped transform the Texas High Plains cotton industry. But the stories below are what make her Jane.


The Stories of Jane

The Kveton Siblings

When Jane showed up for class as a freshman at New Deal High School in 1975, news was spreading through the halls like wildfire. “We have new students this year,” one said, looking down the hall. “Four

The Kvetons

Vietnamese kids are going to be in school with us!”

That’s a big deal for a small rural town, where many had never been beyond Lubbock, much less another country. All four of the new students were close in age to the four youngest Kveton siblings and Jane quickly became friends with Ninh. He was shy and reserved like her and they hit it off almost immediately.

Jane came banging through the screen door one day after school, calling for her mom.

“Mom, Ninh didn’t come to school today.”

“Mama Jean,” as she was lovingly referred to, decided to investigate.

Turns out, the four new Vietnamese students were in the foster care system and had saved their lunch money for months to escape a bad situation. They didn’t get far before they found themselves on a 160-acre farm in Abernathy, Texas, surrounded by Czech farmers.

The foster care system was trying to find a family to place them with, but no one wanted to take all four of them together.

“They’ve been split up enough,” Mama Jean told the social worker. “They can all come home with me.”

So, in December of that year, they did just that. John Kveton used to tell anybody that would listen, “I came home from harvesting cotton one day and had four more kids somehow.”

They were the four oldest siblings of a family of eight, whose father — an officer in the South Vietnamese army — was killed at the end of the Vietnam War.

These four children, Hue, 17, Hoa, 16, Ninh, 14 and Thanh, 12, were sent to America by their mother, Qui, who hoped they would have a better life. John and Jean Kveton helped give them that.

These were the first four children the Kvetons officially fostered. They had already opened their home to their children’s friends, relatives, and relatives of friends. In all, the Kvetons claimed 23 children for their own — six biological and 17 of the heart. To this day, they still have big family reunions where they get together once a year.

Kveton Sibling Reunion 2023.

The Lost Art of Hoeing Rows

Before the glory days of cotton resistant to glyphosate, glufosinate, 2, 4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, and/or dicamba, the main weed management system was hoeing. And if you grew up related to a farmer, you

Jane with a hoe at the Lubbock Center in 2021.

would find yourself on the hoeing crew. Before Jane could do much else, she was removing weeds in cotton fields using a hoe with the handle shortened to accommodate her small stature.

When Jane was a graduate student and research assistant at the Texas A&M AgriLife Lubbock Center, weeds had to be top of mind at every turn. When working on genetic improvement before herbicide tolerant traits are incorporated, researchers engage in what Jane refers to as “1970 farming.” Without GE herbicide technology and limited availability of residuals that would not mask genetic differences, there is only tillage and hard work are the only tools for weed management.

Her first year at the center, in 1983, field bindweed was a serious problem for producers and researchers alike. There was no killing it. Once it came up, you had to dig it out of the ground, or it would immediately take over the entire field.

One of Jane’s first memories at the Lubbock Center is going out every morning with a trowel, bucket and trash bag with instructions from her boss, Dr. John Gannaway. They had the same routine every day:

– Dig, dig, dig out the bindweed,

– Place in trash bag,

– Tie up the trash bag really tight

– Throw in dumpster

– Repeat

The Kvetons didn’t have bindweed on the farm, so Jane thought the whole process was ridiculous. Turns out, her father John and Uncle Henry would hoe weeds right when they came up, so, of course, she didn’t grow up with bindweed. They were coined the “Gardener Farmers” for a reason.

And, while herbicide technology has been a great blessing to producers in the area, it’s also turned hoeing into a lost art.

“When you have herbicide technology in the seed and/or spray applications of it on your fields, you may not see any weeds,” Jane said. “However, with fields so clean, producers may not be paying attention to the sides of the roads surrounding their fields and those weeds can creep in.”

And, as she learned with the bindweed in 1983, once the weeds are in, they’re incredibly difficult to remove. Her experience came back full circle in 2019 as weeds infiltrated some trial plots. Jane gathered her team together.

“I’m so sorry,” she told them looking around the room, “but we’re fixing to have to dig weeds out of rows to fight this infiltration. You see in 1983, Dr. Gannaway showed us…”

Researcher Carol Kelly digging out bindweed in 2019 with Jane.

For the first two months of any summer student’s tenure at the Center, they have to hoe. “I always tell the students, ‘You think you’re never going to get on top of it, but you will have solid weed control if you just stick with it the first month or two,’” Jane added.

One morning, Jane comes in grabs a hoe and heads out to the field. All of a sudden, she looks up to find a student hoeing on her row.

“Why are you on my row,” she asked him.

“Oh, we’re just hoeing the weeds we can see from the road,” he responded.

And that day, all the students learned a very important lesson from a usually elegant Jane Dever who takes hoeing very seriously.

New Mom at 58

Jane’s husband James is a caretaker by heart. He’s taken care of their parents as they grow older and always helped look after his older sister’s children. They were very close with one of his nieces named Megan. Megan lost her husband when the kids were young to a brain aneurysm, so Megan’s children, Catherine and Mikayla, would all come over to Jane’s house for dinner after school frequently while Megan worked.  

In 2019, Megan and Catherine were in a horrible car accident. Megan didn’t make it. In the blink of an eye, Jane found herself the legal guardian of two teenagers experiencing tragic loss.

Much like her parents did many years ago, Jane and James never gave it a second thought when it came to bringing Catherine and Mikayla into their home. In fact, they left their cozy two-bedroom townhouse and moved into a three-bedroom apartment in Lynwood to accommodate everyone.

Catherine and Mikayla have since graduated high school and started their own independent lives; however, they always know they have a home to come back to. Because much like her parents did for their children, Jane and James will always be “home” for them.

'My Research Doesn't Belong to Me. It Belongs to Texas High Plains Cotton Producers.'

Jane and I are sitting in my office. She’s just told me that she’s leaving.

Jane is retiring from Texas A&M AgriLife Lubbock Center — her last day will be February 29. She is moving to Florence, South Carolina, to be the new Director of the Pee Dee Research & Education Center at Clemson University.

I asked her how she felt about leaving her breeding program. I assumed she felt ownership of it with all that she’s accomplished over four decades.

This was her response and sums up the Jane that you and I are going to miss terribly.

“I don’t consider it my program or my people. My fondest dream is to have enough money to develop an endowed chair for this position. But it wouldn’t be named the Jane K. Dever Endowed Chair in Cotton Breeding. I would want to name it the Plains Cotton Endowed Chair in Cotton Breeding, because that’s who that program belongs to. Not me. It belongs to the producers of this great region, the Texas High Plains.”

We wish Jane the best of luck in her new adventure and words cannot express the impact she has had on the Texas High Plains cotton industry.

“My heart is in the High Plains of Texas where I first fell in love with the science of cotton breeding.” – Jane Dever, Ph.D.

Fred’s Legacy

By Kara Bishop

His name was Ferdinand Valentine Kveton, but everybody called him Fred.

Fred Kveton. Source: Texas Agricultural Extension Service – “The Extensioner” November 1949.

Born in Moravia, Czech Republic, 12-year-old Fred followed his older sister to America in 1908, settling near San Angelo. He would go on to fight in World War I, earning his U.S. citizenship. In 1924, he took his military service earnings and bought 160 acres of land in Abernathy, Texas.

He farmed that tract of land with his sons John and Henry Kveton till the day he died in 1990.

In the November 1949 issue of “The Extensioner,” a publication by Texas Agricultural Extension Service, Fred was featured for his innovative practices on the farm. The headline read, “A 480-Acre Farm on 160 Acres — The Kvetons of Lubbock County Triple Yields with Irrigation and Mechanization.”

The article sheds light on who Fred was and how he farmed. The author thought highly of him as he states:

“Fred Kveton is a progressive farmer, but he is also a cautious man. He is not one to change from a practice or systems that has worked for him over a period of years until he is convinced that a new system will do better; that it will increase his yields, make more profit, cut down his costs, save labor or is better for his land. You won’t find Fred Kveton plunging into cotton this year or wheat the next or taking a flyer in commercial vegetables. When a farmer does that, Mr. Kveton will tell you he’ll usually find that he’s a ‘year behind the market.’”

John and Henry Kveton with County Agricultural Agent D. W. Sherrill. Source: Texas Agricultural Extension Service – “The Extensioner” November 1949.

Fred passed this approach to his sons — John and Henry took the 160 acres of farmland and turned it into 2,000. They were known as the “gardener farmers,” as keeping the rows clean of weeds was somewhat of an obsession. They never wanted to acquire more land than they could keep up with, nor did they want to live beyond their means.

Lucky for John, he had 23 children to help him hoe those rows.

John and his wife, “Mama Jean,” fell into foster parenting by accident, becoming caregivers for four Vietnamese children in 1975 while also taking care of six biological children. This started a foster parent journey that continued for decades. John put all of his children through college, and you would often hear him saying, “I have spent my life paying for food and education.”

The Kveton kids did not squander this education. Of the original foster children, No. 4 son, Thanh Ho, would appear

“Fred Kveton harrowing a row straight as an arrow. Each tiny tree protected from wind and sun. The team sleek and the harness well oiled.” Source: Texas Agricultural Extension Service – “The Extensioner” November 1949.

in a UT Southwestern article in 2011. As a mechanical engineer, he went all over the world designing clean rooms for Intel Corporation. When asked about his success, he said he learned the value of work ethic from his father — who was a great farmer.

No. 1 sister is an oncology nurse, No. 2 sister retired as a captain in the U.S. Navy, No. 3 brother retired as a Master Sergeant from the U.S. Air Force and now works for the Federal Aviation Administration. All very accomplished. Earning those accomplishments through grit learned on the farm.

That doesn’t take away from the fact that it was a hard life. His children still vividly remember him driving a 1973 Ford LTD Station Wagon until the wheels absolutely fell off, because that year “was the last year I made money farming.” It was also the year he first sent three kids to college, including his oldest, Kit. She wanted to farm, but, after the education investment, John told her she was not smart enough to be a farmer and should go to medical school instead. She delivered roughly 4,000 babies before retiring this March.

Every Kveton child worked on the farm. They hoed weeds with sawed off hoe handles and helped with planting and harvest. If they accidentally hoed cotton instead of weeds, Uncle Henry would get his calculator out and show them how much money they had just lost. They worked hard and many of them had a passion for the farm.

No. 10 sister; however, didn’t care as much for the outdoors as the rest of her siblings. She was the last person expected to go into agriculture.

Growing up, they called her “Princess Jane,” but you and I know her as one of the greatest cotton breeders of our time. Stay tuned for the next installment of our Faces of Cotton story series on Jane Kveton Dever.

W.B. Criswell

W.B. Criswell

By Kara Bishop

W.B. Criswell, Lubbock County producer, served as PCG President from 1975 to 1977.

On a quiet neighborhood street in Idalou, Texas, sits a 92-year-old man looking for ways to pass the time. Time is funny that way. One minute you’re at the peak of your career, raising children, serving on multiple civic and industry boards. Vacationing. Taking pictures. Preserving memories, and then the next minute comes.

And the memories are all you have left.

The fireplace is decorated with those memories, the office is lined with plaques and certificates of accomplishments. The TV plays in the background to break through the deafening silence. And the old grandfather clock ticks on.

Tic..tic…tok. Tic…tic…tok.

To his neighbors, he’s a quiet, older gentleman, keeping to himself and suffering loss the past couple of years. They have no idea of the trailblazer that still resides in the heart of W.B. Criswell. Even today, the cotton industry feels his impact.


On March 10, 1951, Criswell married fellow Idalou native, Jo Ellen Barnhart. They moved to Melbourne, Florida, shortly after — a member of the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, Criswell was stationed at Patrick Air Force Base.

Together, they spent four years raising two children, Rodney and Teresa, in an 8-foot by 23-foot trailer.

When W.B.’s service ended, the Criswells moved back to Idalou where they welcomed their third child, Gary, and began farming in 1956.

W.B. always knew farming would be his livelihood and was the third generation of his family to carry the torch.  While reading the paper one day, he came across an advertisement of a monthly meeting. The organization was in its early infancy — established just a few months before W.B. moved back home. The name? Plains Cotton Growers.

“I believed in the mission,” W.B. recalled. “I knew it was important for farmers to have a voice in policy, so I became a member that day.”


Even in the U.S. Air Force, W.B. was a forward thinker. He worked in the research department developing ways to enhance satellite technology for communication devices.

“The foundation of the technology on that right there came from our work in the military,” he added, pointing to the smartphone on the table.

The first “module builder” was developed on W.B.’s farm. From 1975 to 1976, Cotton Incorporated would use W.B.’s land and resources to develop a module builder — allowing for more efficient transport of cotton to the gins.

“All of the farmers were waiting on a certain amount of trailers to carry their crop to the gins,” he recalled. “We tried the ricker first, which was more of a storage container for the cotton until the next available trailer arrived for transport. The following year, we were able to build modules that could be transported by trucks. And that’s when we started making strides in efficient cotton transportation.”

W.B. spent the next three decades actively involved in PCG, assuming the president’s role in 1975. He was a member of the Cotton Incorporated Board of Directors and a delegate of the National Cotton Council. During his presidential tenure, he advocated for the cotton industry in Washington D.C., helping to develop the 1977 U.S. Farm Bill.

Every weekend for four months during the summer of 1976, W.B. flew into Washington where his Congressman, Rep. George H. Mahon (D-Texas), was waiting for him. There was much work to be done.

The 1973 Farm Bill terminated a $10 million annual authorization for cotton promotion and research facilitated by Cotton Inc. and reduced the commodity payment limit for producers from $55,000 (1970 Farm Bill) to $20,000.

W.B. Criswell’s best crop year was 1973. He made 1.5 bales per acre.

After months of advocacy and education, the agriculture industry was happy with the strength of the 1977 legislation.

In this legislation, Title XIV: National Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching Policy Act was established, which designated the U.S. Department of Agriculture as the lead federal agency for agricultural research, extension and teaching in the food and agricultural sciences.

It also established a target price program, in which the government would pay the difference to producers should the market price fall below the agreed-upon benchmark.

“I believe the 1977 Farm Bill was the foundation of all future legislation,” W.B. said. “It did a lot for producers when it was passed.

The two crop years after the 1977 Farm Bill went into effect were good years; therefore, the government didn’t have to worry about the parity price payments. However, 1979 went differently.

“When the government realized they were going to have to pay a pretty hefty price difference — I believe market prices were in the low 50s — they modified the ruling,” W.B. added.

This was one of the “straws that broke the camel’s back,” resulting in the 1979 “Tractorcade,” where thousands of farmers rallied on the National Mall. Tractors were everywhere. At 15 miles-per-hour, farmers covered maybe one hundred miles per day, often resting their equipment on the side of the highways leading to Washington. They traveled in convoy fashion, and according to the Smithsonian Institution Archives, “descended on the nation’s Capitol Feb. 5, 1979.”

“I knew of several who went,” W.B. recalled. “But from an organization standpoint, PCG decided that we would strive for change through policy. That was our whole mission.

Cotton Incorporated developed the module builder on W.B. Criswell’s farm in 1976.

“While those were some interesting times, I learned so much those few months on the Hill and the two years I was PCG President. I am a better person because of it and am proud of the work we accomplished.”


W.B. wasn’t just a farmer. He was also a cowboy, home renovator and custom harvester.

He bought 10 Registered Black Angus heifers in 1956. “I knew that if I needed money in a pinch, or had a bad crop year, I could sell some cows to stay afloat,” he said.

At one point, W.B. and his business partner, Buddy Hettler, were working with 2,200 head.

They worked cattle all over West Texas and whether they were close to home or in the Plainview area, their wives would still bring them dinner. The men were always amazed that no matter how many miles away from home they were, the food was always hot.

W.B. bought two cotton strippers so he could add another stream of income to his bottom line. The crop seasons in different regions worked well for his side business. “We’d plant our cotton, then head to South Texas to harvest theirs,” he added.

In the middle of farming cotton, working cattle and serving on bank boards, PCG board, city boards and civic duties, W.B. headed to the bank to ask for a home construction loan. “I wanted to flip some houses in Ruidoso, New Mexico,” he recalled. “The bank didn’t like it — thought it was not worth the risk — but they worked with me anyway and it was a profitable venture.”

Originally, W.B. started with 160 acres in 1956, working his way up to just shy of 1,000 before retirement. He still remembers his best crop.

“It was 1973,” he said. “I made 1.5 bales per acre that year.”

Even with his responsibilities, one of W.B.’s favorite things about his livelihood was the ability to be with his children.

W.B. Criswell’s oldest son, Rodney, sits on the family tractor.


“While you worked long hours farming, you could be present to watch your kids play sports or extracurriculars,” W.B. said. “I had to make the hours up, of course, but I always liked that farming allowed me to be present.”

He and Jo Ellen enjoyed 70 years of marriage together. They travelled to all 50 United States promoting cotton everywhere they went. His wife served as president of the Lubbock County Women’s Cotton Ancillary and was Chair of the Lubbock County Miss Cotton Contest in the 1970s. She had a knack for conservation — rarely threw anything away — was resourceful to the point of purchasing a TV with S&H green stamps and was renowned for her letter correspondence. Jo Ellen passed away April 15, 2021.

While the Criswell kids were busy with school and sports growing up, they also worked on the farm, and even after graduation, Rodney helped with the custom harvesting business, farmed for himself for several years, and sprayed fields for the boll weevil eradication program. He is now retired, driving a truck for Idalou Co-op Gin when they need him.

Teresa served as a Gaines County extension agent for many years, and is now retired from working as the state 4-H director in College Station.

Gary, a sales representative with Becknell Wholesale Company, developed a love for motorcycles, along with his father. They often rode together, and even this year, W.B. drove his convertible alongside Gary enjoying the hill country on the ride that he and 20 others from the Lubbock area go on every year.

On April 16, they parted ways in Junction, Texas. Gary headed back to the Corpus Christi area; and W.B. came back to Idalou with some merchandise that Gary had asked him to return to Bucknell.

W.B. was home for an hour before Rodney came through the door to tell him Gary had a fatal accident. “He told me he was going to take a route we never take; it has a lot of curves and winding road, and we lost him.”

Time seems even slower now, yet the clock’s rhythm never changes.

Tic…tic…tok. Tic…tic…tok.

The paths he forged for the cotton industry may be forgotten by most; however, the influence lives on as others take up the mantel to protect and promote the interests of High Plains cotton producers.

Outliving friends and family, he sits in the same silence he’s been in for two years waiting for time to pass. But, that’s OK. He knows Gary is keeping Jo Ellen company as they also wait on him.

Jordy Rowland

Jordy, his wife Maegan and their children: Aubrey (11), Ace (10), Harper (9) and Tagg (5)


By Kara Bishop

Q: Did you grow up in agriculture?

A: I grew up in Hart, Texas, and my dad farmed cotton, corn and wheat in Castro County. Farming has always been a passion of mine, and I still remember setting irrigation tubes and moving gated pipe. That was back when we had more water in the area than we do now. My kids will never know anything about that.

North Gin in Dimmitt, Texas.

Q: Where did you go to school (high school and college)?

A: I went to high school at Nazareth Independent School District and was really into sports. Sports and farming were my interests. We were competitive in football, basketball, baseball, track, and golf and I was interested in playing football in college. I decided to walk on to the Texas Tech University (TTU) football team. I played on special teams and at nickel/dime positions and was on a full scholarship the last two and a half years I played. It was a great experience and provided me with some friends that I still have today. I was on the team in 2008 when we made a great run and was a part of the thrilling game when we beat University of Texas at home.

Q: What did you major in while playing football?

A: I started out in mechanical engineering — I’m a numbers guy. However, playing collegiate football was a full-time job in and of itself, so I decided to change my major to agricultural economics. It was nice to be back with ag people. My transcript does look a little funny, though — it’s not every day you have advanced calculus and differential equations as electives.

Q: What did you do after graduation?

A:  I worked for a commercial lending group in Amarillo, Texas, as an analyst working my way up to credit underwriter. I was there for roughly four years when a loan officer position opened at People’s Bank back in Nazareth. My wife and I jumped on the opportunity to move back home.

Q: How did you end up at North Gin?

A: About a year after we moved back, I received a phone call from Jim Bradford. He indicated he was looking for someone to come run the gin. I was familiar with cotton production and had a farming background, but I didn’t know anything about ginning. Jim knew that and worked to teach me everything. He has been an excellent mentor. It took a year or two before I fully saw the operations of a gin season and how everything functioned. Now I’m heading into my 10th crop.

Q: What is working with Jim Bradford like?

Jordy and Jim examine cotton samples at the gin.

A: Jim makes it easy to come to work every day. He is laid back and always finds a way to find the joy in the day. I have learned so much about how to handle different situations – good or bad. He never loses his cool and always handles business professionally. He is very generous and always looks to help those in need. I don’t know if there are words to adequately capture the totality of Jim Bradford. He is a wonderful mentor and an even better friend.

Q: What was the most challenging part of beginning your career with North Gin?

A: Learning the ins and outs of the gin itself was the most challenging part. Even now, I wouldn’t call myself an expert. We have an amazing gin superintendent, Johnny Emerson. With Johnny, we can always count on the gin being ready to run when the season begins. He’s the best.

Q: What is the average number of bales ginned at North Gin?

A: I wouldn’t say there’s an average number as much as a range that we stay within. For the 2021 crop, we ginned 47,000 bales. The two years before that we did between 20,000 and 30,000. In 2018, we ginned 72,000. Anything below 25,000 is considered below normal for us and we ginned 18,150 bales for the 2022 season.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge for you in your daily operations?

A: Our biggest battle every year is getting acres planted. This area is predominantly ruled by the beef cattle and dairy industries, so there are a lot of mouths to feed. The better irrigated acres in this area have been sold to the dairies. Some dairies are planting a little cotton where their water has dropped off, but the majority of them are planting some sort of feed like sorghum silage or corn silage. And cotton producers plant some, too, where they have water because the prices are good. We need a good 10 to 15 cent rally in the futures prices for cotton or we may lose more acreage in this area this crop season.

Q: What is something you wish more people understood about agriculture?

A: We hear a lot about sustainability these days, and I just wish more people understood the true nature of a farmer. They want to farm the land for generations to come, so they use sustainability practices to ensure that future. Don’t come in here and tell farmers how to be sustainable — they already wrote the book.

Jordy Rowland: Family Man

Jordy met his wife, Maegan in Kindergarten. They began dating their junior year of high school and were married in the summer of 2009. They live in Nazareth and have four children: Aubree (11), Ace (10), Harper (9) and Tag (5).

The Rowlands are active members of the First Baptist Church in Dimmitt, and Jordy’s love of sports has been passed on to his children. Whether its flag football or little dribblers, Jordy is usually coaching one or more teams on his Saturdays. “And, sometimes, I find time to play golf,” he adds.


Veteran’s Day

Patriotic Flag and Veteran's Flag on Tractor in Texas

Today, we dedicate Faces of Cotton to the men and women who have served, fought and protected our country. In honor of Veterans Day, we share stories of those who served our country and also serve our cotton industry.

Kirby Lewis – Cotton Farmer

U.S. Navy – Naval Aviator/Flight Instructor

Kirby Lewis with his grandparents after flying into Reece Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas, on a TA-J4 Skyhawk aircraft.


Kirby Lewis farms cotton in Floyd, Hale and Lubbock Counties. But in a different life, he served as a naval aviator for 6 years, 9 months and 15 days.

“I remember the exact amount, because it was required for my application to Laughlin Air Force Base, where I spent four years with the 96th Flying Training Squadron.”

He joined because he wanted to experience landing on an aircraft carrier. “I didn’t realize I’d have to live on it. An ocean carrier can get crowded with 5,000 airmen and sailors packed in it for a six-month tour.”

After graduating from Texas Tech University with a agricultural engineering degree, Lewis went on to fly E-2C Hawkeyes with Carrier Air Wing 9. “I had 2,100 flying hours by the time I completed two tours on aircraft carriers.”

He went on to fly T-2C Buckeyes as an instructor with Training Wing 3 at NAS Chase Field in Beeville, Texas for another 1,500 flying hours.

He now farms with his son, which he said he wouldn’t trade for the world.

“I think if everyone had military service experience, this country wouldn’t be as divided as it is today. There’s nothing more unifying than serving together as Americans for America.”

Randy West – Assistant Manager, Long S Gin
Army Sergeant First Class

Everyone in Randy West’s family has served in the military. His grandfather retired after 36 years of service; his father served in the U.S. Coast Guard; his oldest brother served in the U.S. Navy; his little brother was in the U.S. Army; and his son served 12 years in the U.S. Navy.

“After his service, my dad was a Baptist preacher, and I was a rebel child. I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for the Army — you grow up quick in the service.”

West fought in Desert Storm, spending five months stationed in Kuwait. “There are some things you just don’t talk about. Some things I don’t want to think about.”

West has two module truck drivers, Jose Hierro, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and Norman Grayson, who served in the U.S. National Guard, and PCG thanks them for their service.

“I learned honor, trust, work ethic and selflessness during my service. It’s not about you anymore when you’re in the military. I went from a selfish high school kid to a changed adult, which is why I believe everyone should go through basic training right out of high school.”

George Pfeiffenberger

Plains Cotton Growers Inc. when it was founded

Plains Cotton Growers Inc. when it was founded

It’s hard to know where to go if you don’t know where you’ve been.

While working on a historical timeline for Plains Cotton Growers, I’ve been transported back to another time where they wore suits and ties in cotton fields and paved the way for cotton in the Texas High Plains.

I’ve found some true gems along the way, including the vote to establish Plains Cotton Growers Inc. where the minutes state: “The decision was so unanimous that a negative vote was not requested.” These people wanted better for cotton in this area. But none more so than the man I’m going to talk about today.

While elbows deep in boxes of newspaper clippings, meeting minutes and black-and-white photographs, I pieced together the story of PCG’s first executive vice president: Mr. George W. Pfeiffenberger. It wasn’t that hard to do. He took copious notes and even wrote a brief autobiography.

George Pfeiffenberger portrait photo

Pfeiffenberger wasn’t a native of Texas. He was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, but his coursework in textiles at Texas A&M, combined with his knowledge in fiber quality, made him an attractive candidate to head PCG. He began his cotton career in 1930 with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Cotton Division, and was one of the first technologists in the newly formed cotton fiber laboratory in Washington D.C.

“This was the beginning in the U.S. of the first real program of cotton fiber research on a scientific basis,” Pfeiffenberger writes.

During the 15 years he spent with USDA, he learned the basic structure of fibers and the measurements of their chemical and physical properties, while also collaborating in developing new methods and instruments for fiber measurement and research.

I started to get a feel for a very serious man who meant business. And, while I know he did take his career seriously, he had another interesting pastime. Pfeiffenberger was a cartoonist.

He completed a correspondence course in cartooning and eventually became a freelance cartoonist for the sports section of the Dayton Morning Journal while attending college in Ohio. (I’ve been searching for an original sketch — so far, no luck.) Later in life, he would even provide editorial cartoons on cotton to industry publications.

In 1945, he moved to Lubbock where he assumed the role of Cotton Research Director for the Chicopee Manufacturing Corporation (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson).

Another reason he was a shoo-in for the PCG job was his experience in all facets of cotton.

  • 1945: developed an air-flow instrument for cotton finesse, rapid enough for large volume testing and commercial use, which “ante-dated the micronaire by about two years.”
  • 1954: employed as research director for the Otto Goedecke Company, cotton merchants of Halletsville, Texas, during which time he “traveled the U.S. and Europe extensively, giving lectures and acting as mill consultant for raw cotton purchases and utilization, specializing in cleaning and in specifying blends for particular uses.”
  • 1955-1956: employed as cotton technologist of the National Cotton Council, continuing his extensive travel and educational work. He specialized in cotton packaging during this time and inspired interest in cotton bagging and automatic sampling with several firms to provide an improved package for U.S. cotton.
  • 1956: at the request of Texas High Plains cotton industry leaders, Mr. Pfeiffenberger assumed the position of Executive Vice President of Plains Cotton Growers Inc., an organization whose members annually produced over 15% of the total U.S. cotton crop.


Men Meeting at conference on Farm Labor

From left to right: George Pfeiffenberger, John D. Smith, Littlefield, PCG vice president, Wright G. Boyd, Lamesa, Howard Hurd, Brownfield, George Mahan at the Conference on Farm Labor.

I’d like to think that his work in the industry is partially responsible for the 25% to 35% U.S. production currently attributed to the High Plains.

Pfeiffenberger had many accolades, including: “Man of the Year” by Cotton Digest Magazine, and an Honorary Doctorate from Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University).

“George was the hardest working man I had ever met,” said Don Johnson, who served as George’s executive assistant from 1960 to 1964 before assuming the role of PCG executive vice president. “He dedicated his life to Plains cotton.”

George Pfeiffenberger with cotton industry representatives.

George Pfeiffenberger (left) with cotton industry representatives.

In 1964, Johnson randomly decided to go down to the office on a Saturday when PCG was normally closed. He walked through the door to find Pfeiffenberger (who often worked on weekends) clinging to his desk. He suffered a heart attack and passed away suddenly at the age of 56.

His legacy and life’s work were dedicated to the establishment of Plains Cotton Growers and the enhancement of Plains cotton’s global reputation. Pfeiffenberger initiated our core mission to provide premier service to cotton producers and the cotton industry in all things related to legislation, research, promotion, and service for the High Plains. The impact of his efforts were felt throughout the state of Texas, so much so that State Senate resolution No. 184 by then Sen. H.J. “Doc” Blanchard was written Feb. 25, 1965, which states:

“Resolved: That the Senate of the State of Texas by this Resolution recognizes the great loss to this state by the death of George W. Pfeiffenberger, and extends its sincere sympathy to the members of his family; and be it further that copies of this Resolution be prepared for his wife and two children, and that when the Senate adjourns this day, it do so in memory of George W. Pfeiffenberger.”

Signed by Lieutenant Gov. Preston Smith.

Old Magazine Article of George Pfeiffenberger Plains Cotton Growers

 Read the Resolution here.

Peyton Wilde

Peyton Wilde standing in field of cotton

On Oct. 13, 2022, Peyton Wilde brought in the first bale of the season for Idalou Coop Gin. I shared the post on the Plains Cotton Growers Facebook page, not realizing how exciting it would be for people to see his name and photo on the page.

When I spoke with Idalou Coop Gin General Manager Keith Grayson, he had one thing to say about the producer from Lubbock County. 

“Peyton will put in twice as many hours on a tractor, spray rig or stripper than two normal hands in a week.”

I say this all the time, but one of the things I love about this job is the opportunity to share the stories of upstanding, wholesome, humble people. The following is a Q&A with Peyton Wilde, recently elected Idalou Coop Gin board member.

Q: Why did you choose to farm for your livelihood?

A: Well, it’s all I’ve known. My dad farms in Wall, Texas. I couldn’t tell you what generation farmer I am — I just know that my family has been farming since they got off the boat in the 1800s. I landed a job as a farm hand with Brandon, Mike and Norine Patschke while in college, and they mentored me and made it possible for me to farm for a living. I initially thought I was going to be an ag teacher, but quickly realized it wasn’t for me.

Q: Is this the worst year you’ve had as a farmer?

A: Personally, as a farmer with my own land, I would say yes. However, 2011 was really bad, too, and I was working for the Patschkes by that point. I would say that 2011 was hotter and dryer than this year, but input prices weren’t near as high. This year, the market has been so volatile and combining that with high input prices makes for a tough year. It can be depressing to look at it and think about it. Everyone that works on the farm can get down about this year we’re having.

Q: With the year as challenging as it has been, what makes you get up in the morning and face the day?

A: I’ve always had the philosophy that if you get up and hit the ground running before your brain catches up, you’ll have a decent day. And there’s always the chance that something will change for the better. One time, I had some friends ask me why I was trying to get a crop going when it was so dry. I told them you never know what’s going to happen. That very night it rained and kept raining and it was the best crop we had ever produced. You just never know what might turn around in your favor. And you definitely won’t know if you give up. In this country, you have to keep fighting.

Q: How many acres do you think you’ll harvest this year?

A: Well, all of our dryland is gone, but we’ll harvest 30% of our irrigated. We failed a lot of acres and could have failed more, but it’s hard to do that when you know how badly the world needs cotton.

Q: Is there value in a support system as a farmer?

A: Definitely. I still work with the Patschkes plus farm my own land, but if something needs work on my land, you can find them out there fixing it for me. We all just work together. And my family is amazing. They taught me everything I know about farming and helped me with a down payment for my first farmland purchase. I have great friends in the farming industry that I can visit with and learn from. I just surround myself with good farmers and hope it rubs off on me.

Q: Were you trying to get the first bale into Idalou Coop Gin?

A: No, not necessarily — first bale is generally not your best cotton, especially on irrigated. I harvested that bale off of the first farmland I ever purchased, which is neat.

Q: What’s the most beneficial thing you’ve learned while farming?

A: The Patschkes have always been proactive and progressive in farming and I’ve learned a lot from that approach. We are big believers in cover crops and soil health so we rotate crops in like hay grazer and wheat. Half of our irrigated fields use drip irrigation. The Patschkes were one of the first farming operations to implement drip in Lubbock County. 

And I learned early on that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

The good Lord put me on this Earth to be a cotton farmer, so I’m going to farm cotton.

Eric Wanjura

Eric Wanjura speaking to college students

There are people out there that do the work — yet few people know they do it. They are quiet, reserved, happy to do things behind the scenes. They don’t need the glory of other men, nor do they handle it well when it’s given to them. Their big hearts are driven to action and good deeds with less talk.

When they do talk, it doesn’t even occur to them to ensure they get credit for their good deeds, often citing someone else’s impact that achieved the goal.

But sometimes, it’s necessary to bring these people out of the woodwork — to give them the spotlight they’re not always comfortable with. When you experience difficult years, especially this one, it’s nice to know that there is hope for humanity in the stories of wholesome people.

Meet Eric Wanjura.

All in the Family

While Wanjura didn’t grow up on a farm, agriculture was a big part of his life growing up. His father, Don Wanjura, served as a research scientist and agricultural engineer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). His research work in irrigation scheduling helped in the development of drip irrigation systems.

His mother, Sue Wanjura, grew up in a family that farmed cotton around Southland, Texas. Wanjura’s brother, John, followed in their father’s footsteps, and is currently an agricultural engineer for the USDA-ARS.

The American Parents

Wanjura and his wife Christine have been married for 27 years and have three children. But in 2015, three children turned into five overnight.   

The Wanjura children attended Christ the King Cathedral School, which operates an international exchange student program. From ninth grade to senior year, two such exchange students, Chen and Eric, lived with the Wanjuras and still visit during the summer and holidays.

“They call us mom and dad — their American parents,” Wanjura added. “While it was hard to raise five kids during that time, it was a great reward for us. Having them and their families as a part of ours has been a great blessing.”

Their oldest biological child, Sarah, earned her food science degree from Texas Tech University and now works as product development manager for HEB’s “Meal Simple” programs.

Wanjura Family

Christine, Eric, Ben, Sarah, Hugh, Chen and Eric Wanjura.

Their second, Ben, is a senior at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A few weeks ago, the academy had job drops, where they figure out what their first assignment will be after graduation.

“Ben has wanted to be a pilot ever since he graduated high school,” Wanjura said. “The pilot slots are very competitive, but he got a pilot assignment. We are very excited for him.”

Their youngest, Hugh, is a freshman at Texas A&M University and part of the Corps of Cadets. Chen is also at Texas A&M, while Eric is attending University of California, Davis.

“I’ve thought often about the Chinese one-child policy that China had for years and how these parents send their only children to the U.S. for an education,” Wanjura added. “I’m glad we were able to take care of Chen and Eric like they were our own and give their families peace of mind.”

Prepared for the Role

Wanjura wasn’t looking for a job change while working for PCCA in their gin accounting and field services division, but Ron Harkey, then president and CEO of Farmers Cooperative Compress (FCC) had a plan in mind.

“I got a call out of the blue from Ron saying they were looking for a manager for their Plainview location,” Wanjura said.

As manager of the FCC Plainview plant for 10 years, Wanjura gained experience in warehousing, seeing as he wasn’t familiar with it before then moved back to Lubbock as vice president of Administration — maybe that was the plan all along?


Eric Wanjura

“Looking back, I can see moments, meetings that I was invited to, and even opportunities that I was given by Ron to prepare me to take over his job,” Wanjura added. “To see how well he prepared me to take his role — he didn’t have to do that. And the Board of Directors didn’t have to appoint me, either. The faith that Farmers Cooperative Compress has put in me over the years is humbling.”

According to Wanjura, one of the greatest things Ron Harkey did was succession planning prior to his retirement. He spent years before the event planning for a smooth transfer of leadership that would benefit FCC. “He truly cared about the organization and wanted to leave it better than he had found it,” Wanjura added. “He was a great mentor and still a wonderful friend.”

Harkey’s love of service lives on in Wanjura’s goals as the new CEO and president of FCC, not just because of Harkey’s mentorship, but also stemming from a life of service.

A Heart for People

Year one: take over Farmers Cooperative Compress (FCC) during global pandemic with short crop year.

Year two: manage record busting 2021 crop amid a worldwide supply chain nightmare.

Year three: enter 2022 — the upcoming new historical benchmark of low yielding cotton due to a ravenous drought.

Eric Wanjura hosts the Texas Tech University MILE program at FCC.The MILE Program provides unique leadership and professional development experiences during a three-semester cohort, which is up of 14 selected students that represent each Davis College undergraduate academic department. Students enroll in a MILE course each semester of the cohort and receive a leadership certificate upon completion of the MILE Program.

Suffice it to say, it’s been an eventful two and a half years for FCC’s new president and CEO Eric Wanjura.

During the Plains Cotton Growers Inc. Board of Directors Meeting in July, Wanjura left early with a heavy heart. Due to the catastrophic 2022 crop year, he was having to let some FCC employees go.

Last year, FCC received 2.6 million bales. Their current estimate for this year is 580,000. When you are only receiving 22% of the bales you received the year before, management becomes difficult.

“Unfortunately, we had to lay off about 55 employees, which we hated to do,” Wanjura said. “It’s like losing a part of your family.”

FCC went through a similar situation in 2011 and Wanjura is hoping the outcome will be the same as it was then.

“These employees knew it was coming,” he added. “They watch the news and knew what was going on. When we had to reduce staff in 2011 when the drought was so bad, we were thankfully able to hire them all back the following year. We fully plan and hope for this to happen for the 2023 crop year.”

The FCC relationship with its staff transfers to producers, as well.

“We’re here to serve our membership,” Wanjura said. “We want to serve our staff and we want to serve our farmers, our customers.

“We truly strive to protect and enhance the value of our members’ cotton, not just because we want their business, but because, like our staff, they, too, are our family.”

Glenn GT Thompson

Glenn Thompson

Down in the Nittany Valley at the central ridge of the Allegheny Mountains sits Howard, Pennsylvania. This metropolis in Centre County of 720 people and one traffic light is where Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pa.) was born and raised by loving parents. After serving during the Korean War in the U.S. Navy, Thompson’s father went to school to become a tool and dye maker. He would freeze his retirement 15 years later and build a sporting goods store in his front yard, where he and his wife ran the business together.

While most teenagers enjoyed sleeping in on the weekends, Thompson was up at 6 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays to open the store. “What I wouldn’t give to sleep till six nowadays,” he added.

Thompson’s grandfather was a dairyman, but Thompson’s father couldn’t take over the family business as many dairy farms in the area were lost through eminent domain to build the Foster J. Sayers Dam at the Bald Eagle State Park.

“At least two generations have mostly passed since the first drops of water flowed over the spillway, heading downstream to join the Susquehanna River,” according to the Centre County Gazette. “But the children and grandchildren of the property owners most affected by the dam, or the ‘damn dam’ as they call it, still vividly recall the impact of the project on the town and surrounding farms.” It’s no surprise Thompson adamantly supports private property rights.

The farms Thompson’s family once worked are now at the bottom of a lake in Bald Eagle State Park. Thompson’s father would guide boats across the lake where the family dairy farms once stood — instead of herding cattle, he was herding fisherman. “The irony isn’t lost on me,” Thompson added.

Thompson married into the executive branch. “She was my seventh-grade class president,” he said of his wife, Penny. They were blessed to raise three boys in their hometown and the boys even graduated from the same high school as their father. “Rural living is all I’ve ever known,” Thompson added.

Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pa.) and “Rooster” at the Congressman’s home in Howard, Pennsylvania.

It’s been quite a journey for Thompson to become the Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee with some unconventional stops along the way.

Health Care

Thompson identified his life purpose at 11 years old. As a Boy Scout, he engaged in many service projects, one of which was washing the city fire trucks. Not only was it one of the highlights of his childhood — who wouldn’t want to climb all over a fire truck? — but it instilled in him a desire to make a difference in the lives of other people. To serve.

To pay for tuition while in college, Thompson worked the night shift of a local nursing home and fell in love with health care. He earned a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic rehabilitation and dual master’s degrees: one in therapeutic rehabilitation and one in health science.

Thompson spent the next 28 years working as a therapist rehabilitation services manager where he worked to restore patients’ quality of life. Sometimes restoration wasn’t possible, but that didn’t stop Thompson. A man in his late 20s had significant neurological impairment from Lyme’s disease and was living as a quadriplegic completely dependent on everyone for survival. When he came to Thompson’s rehabilitation facility, he engaged in aquatic therapy. In water, without gravity to chain him to a chair or bed, he could move his limbs and take a slight step. “We couldn’t help him achieve more mobility or independence in the long term,” Thompson said. “However, watching him achieve a minute amount of freedom while in the water was something I will never forget. Obviously, the aquatic therapy provided physical benefits, but when we got in the water, the emotional lift that man experienced could not be matched.”

More than a decade after he stopped working in therapeutic rehabilitation, Thompson will have people thanking him for how he changed their child’s life, grandmother’s life, their own life.

From Washing the Fire Truck to Driving It

Living in a small trailer just outside of Howard with his new wife, Thompson lay awake listening to the fire whistle sound off about a mile away. Wee-oww, wee-oww, wee-oww.

He found out the next day that a structure fire had killed a young mom and her infant son.

“I couldn’t handle it,” Thompson added. “I couldn’t handle it.”

He joined the volunteer fire department that day and served just shy of 30 years — 20 of which he spent as president of the company. When asked why he became a state-certified firefighter, EMT and rescue technician, Thompson replied, “There was a need.”

The Road to Congress

Thompson was 12 years old when he won his first election: assistant patrol leader. Years later he ran for an appointment the Bald Eagle Area School Board. Community involvement was a passion for Thompson and he decided he wanted to take it further.

Thompson ran for state representative and lost. Twice.

A few months after his last loss, Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.) announced he would not run for reelection.

“I was heartbroken,” Thompson said. “Literally heartbroken because he was my champion. He was my go-to guy, and you would think that I would be celebrating his retirement, right? But I wasn’t.”

Eight people in the Republican Party announced they were running for Peterson’s seat before Thompson threw his hat in the ring. “I was the last one to sign up to run and had no money.” Three of his opponents spent $3.5 million on their campaigns collectively. Thompson raised $24,000 and saved some of it for the celebration party, just in case.

He won the primary by 1%.

The Congressman

After winning the election against Democratic nominee Mark McCracken by 16%, Thompson was the House representative for Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District — Thompson was redistricted to the 15th Congressional District in the 2018 election by order of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

When he chose to serve on the House Agriculture Committee, he received many questions. “Why would you serve on the ag committee when you’re from Pennsylvania?” Pennsylvania’s biggest commodity is dairy, but it’s surprisingly diverse. According to Thompson, the state boasts the finest hardwoods, many vineyards and fruit trees in the southern region, livestock, all the row crops are represented, and it’s the world epicenter for mushrooms. After a while though, Thompson got tired of his long explanation to that question and started saying, “I like to eat.”

His tie to the cotton industry is through his friends. “Mike Conaway (House Representative from 2005 to 2021 who served as both chair and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee.) taught me a lot about cotton and I taught him about trees seeing as he literally had a town in his district called Notrees, Texas,” Thompson added. “He and Colin Peterson (House Representative from 1991 to 2021 who served as both chair and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee two different times.) both educated me on the cotton industry.”

As Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, Thompson has a seat at all hearings by the full committee and subcommittees. He is present at every hearing. “I work very hard to show up and participate in the subcommittee hearings scheduled — this work is important.”

Looking Toward the 2023 Farm Bill

If Thompson does chair the House Agriculture Committee in November, he plans to prioritize the upcoming Farm Bill and amp up the intensity of discussion. By this time in 2018, 100 Farm Bill hearings by full committee and subcommittees had been conducted. As of June 14, 2022, there have been 12. While frustrated by the slow progress — especially considering almost 200 members of Congress have never voted on a Farm Bill before — Thompson is ready to figure out what works and what doesn’t. “The point of these hearings is to improve upon the previous legislation,” he added. “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it. However, there may be some things that need tweaking to benefit our farmers, ranchers and foresters.” When asked about a possible extension of the 2018 Farm Bill, he said, “Extension is better than expiration; however, we’re going to do all we can to get a good bill passed in 2023.”

PCG CEO Kody Bessent, Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pa.), PCG Vice President Travis Mires, and Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), at the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas.

To prepare in the event he does become chair, Thompson has visited 35 states since January 2021, going on a listening tour of different agricultural sectors. In June 2021, he attended the West Texas Rural Summit and Tour in Lubbock, Texas, and surrounding areas. Plains Cotton Growers Inc. helped educate him on field research and assisted with a tour of the Meadow Farmers Cooperative Gin and Farmhouse Winery. This year, Thompson visited the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas, in May as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture classing office in Memphis, Tennessee, and attended the Cotton Warehouse Association of America Annual Convention in June.

“I can learn the issues by talking to people about it, but I really like seeing it with my own eyes,” he said. “I want to experience it as the farmers, ranchers, foresters and processors experience it. It’s a blessing to meet all these folks in agriculture and an honor to bring their voices back to Washington D.C. as we work on the Farm Bill.”

While disaster assistance is a topic at hand when looking at the upcoming Farm Bill, Thompson’s concern is the possible weakening of crop insurance. “Are there trends or patterns consistently out there that should be incorporated into crop insurance? I think it’s something we need to think about when evaluating some of these existing programs. If we do implement a permanent disaster relief component, then I would like to see more timely payments.” Thompson also is cautious as to using permanent language. “If we have permanent disaster language in the bill, it will be harder to respond to the actual disasters that farmers, ranchers and foresters are responding to at any given moment.”

With inflation and input costs diminishing high market prices, Thompson is deeply concerned about profits for farm families. “At the end of the day, agriculture is a business,” he said in a Farm Bill Hearing conducted by the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management. “It’s not about what you bring in — it’s about the profit margin you’re left with. Commodity prices can drop overnight, but once input costs are raised, they’re not going to come back down easily.”

While the journey wasn’t ‘traditional,’ the Boy Scout, sporting goods store worker, health care rehabilitation manager and school board member has always had one goal in mind: improve the lives of those around him. And if all goes as planned, he will chair the committee that writes the 2023 Farm Bill. If only 11-year-old GT could see himself now.