The Immigration Guy

Challenges Faced by the Cotton Industry

November 30, 2022 Kyle Farmer Season 1 Episode 15
The Immigration Guy
Challenges Faced by the Cotton Industry
Show Notes Transcript

Kyle sits down with Doug Wilde of Reata Cotton Company and current President of the Cotton Growers Association to talk about challenges faced in the cotton industry, what sustainability means, and some advice for young farmers. 

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Produced & Edited By: Drew Tattam

Hey y'all. This is the immigration guy with Kyle Farmer.

Today we're sitting down with Doug Wilde. He's the president of Reata Cotton Company, a sustainable family farm in Texas, growing upland and Pima cotton. Welcome, Doug, and thank you for making time to join us today. Thank you very much. Uh, that's correct. Um, you know, Reata Cotton Company is owned by my wife and I, and, uh, we farm in West Texas.

Uh, cotton is our main cash crop, and we diversify into other crops depending on price and crop rotation, grain, sorghum, corn, wheat. We've been, I corn experimented into that. So, done a little bit of everything. Yeah, no, that, you know, I, I think. Texas really needs to thank our cotton farmers for the big deer because y'all, they, they sure do love that cotton seed.

Yes. Did that used to be a thing like along, you know, 15 years ago, was it a thing where people would buy cotton seeds for feeding deer? I don't remember that. 

No. Uh, most of the cotton seed would go to dairies and uh, that was kind of the main market and, you know, with, uh, the agritourism of hunting, especially white tail whitetail in central and West Texas.

You know, these ranchers have noticed it's a good way to supplement their ranching income and yeah, you know, people shoot for big hunt, big antlers, and you need a good, healthy deal. And feed 'em some good protein and fat and you know, sometimes grain is expensive, so let's buy some cotton seed and go buy a truckload of cotton seed and uh, feed it out to their deer and get, get 'em good and fat and big old set of horns so someone can harvest.

Yeah, no, they, they tear it up. It, it's funny cuz I, I don't remember seeing that until, I dunno, maybe the last like five or six years, which is when I, I started feeding our deer cotton seed too. Cause I heard about, and at the time, cotton seed was. Now cotton seeds got more expensive. I don't know if it's still as expensive for you guys, but if you go down to the feed store, they, they know how much that stuff's worth.

Yes, sir. And it's kind of ironic because, uh, the, the deer are a pest, a nuisance for growing cotton. They'll, they'll come in and they can annihilate, uh, half of a cotton field, especially next to a pasture area. And, uh, it becomes a challenge also when it comes to growing cotton in west Texas. Yeah. 

Well, if y'all ever need someone just to go and clean up those, those pests, I think that we can probably find plenty of people to help you out.

Yeah. You just po post your phone number and you might be getting some calls. 

Yeah, uh, so tell us about your company at in Reata Cotton Company, how you got started. 

Yeah, so, um, you know, I'm a multi-generational, uh, cotton farmer and, you know, my great greats have always, uh, grown. Cotton or been farmers since, you know, they came over from Germany and, um, so that's kind of all I've known my whole life.

You know, came home from school, and went to work on the farm and, uh, went to school at Texas a and m, got uh, master's degree and Ag Systems Management, and came home, started farming. with my father and uh, he passed away in 2014 and we kind of had a shift of figuring out how the future was going to be run with his operation.

So, I took over, I'd say the majority of the farming operation. And so, and then about 2015, you know, Do, I guess what most people do when they form a corporation is to try to limit the liability, OU view individually and hopefully some tax savings and stuff like that. So that's when my wife and I formed Reata Cotton Company, and we were farming in the San Angelo area and then also west in the Permian Basin.

And, uh, you know, like I said earlier, the main cash crop was upland cotton. And we've experimented with some Pima cotton. That's the extra-long staple. It's kind of more desirable for your high-end, uh, clothing and do a lot of the grains depending on what the market is at the time. And, uh, we've kind of actually downsized.

We've gotten out of the farming operation and, uh, the Permian Basin and, um, was able to spend more focus on ours. More of the homestead area and um, my kids are younger, so I wanted to be home more with them and. Uh, just to focus more time with the family and our local operations. So, we, we downsized a little bit and, uh, but we're still, we're still going strong.

And, you know, I guess when we started it, you know, sustainable was kind of one of those buzzwords. And, you know, I worked with one of the, uh, big cotton seed companies and they were, you know, marketing, you know, Cotton lent as, uh, you know, a sustainable product and, uh, you know, traveled around the world with them, you know, bringing the face of a farmer to these cotton merchants, cotton mills.

Um, and um, it, it was always kind of interesting because sustainable is a very broad term and my definition of sustainable is not the same as yours. Um, and you know, when I'm up here at Nike headquarters and you know, you got Nike and Adidas and Levi, we’re all sitting in the same room, and they're like, we want your sustainable cotton.

Okay, well what, what makes it sustainable? And, you know, my, my definition is sustainable. Number one, I have to be profitable. And if my business is not sustainable, it's not going to be an operation tomorrow. And then also I have to, and I have to have my operation, my farm. I want to leave in a good or better condition than I found it for my next generation.

So, it’s that that's my definition of sustainable and, you know, can we work together on certain, uh, farming techniques that make us both happy? So, um, I guess that's kind of sustainable phase stuck with us. And, um, so, and, and it's a good challenge for ever farming operation to handle, you know, not necessarily a hundred percent organic, but, you know, think what's best for, you know, the next generation.

Yeah, I always think it's so funny whenever people point to and criticize farmers for their environmental impact, and they do this while they're eating dinner and not relying on the land at all. I'm like, dude, you guys gotta get out a little bit and meet some farmers, because I've never met people that actually care about the environment more.

The farmers, they live off of it and their kids live off. The grandparents usually lived off it and it's just, it, it's just so infuriating cuz it's just like, you're, you're, you're so exactly wrong. But you have no idea how exactly wrong you are. Yeah. And we have to, I mean, otherwise you won't, you can't, there's no future.

And you know That's right. Is there some abuse out there? Yeah. And there's always, you know, someone sometime that you might do something a little questionable that you know, but there's always repercussions that have to be rebuilt. Yeah. 

For those activities. Yeah, I know. Yeah. But they, they, they look at the farming industry as a whole, as like, oh, the farming industry is some big bad environmental boogieman is like, no, they're not.

They, they're, they, and, and they always that the farming industry strives towards sustainability and, and, and, and the way that you're defining it, which is actually how I would define it as well, which is, you know, they, they, and they, they're always trying to eliminate waste and they're in. By something a lot more impactful than this, like semi moralistic view of environmental impact, which is I need to feed my family and I, I, I'm incentivized by improving my practices.

In a sustainable way, a long term, long term sustainable way. Cause I need to feed my family and I wanna leave my kids something. And it, and so it's, it's just, it's one of those things that people completely misrepresent about farming that I find kinda ridiculous. Yeah. We're, uh, all very selfish people I think in our country.

And, um, none of. The, the majority of people have never really had to go hungry. And, um, that's what we all take for granted. Yeah. I do myself and I, I think, you know, we, we need to appreciate a, a lot of the daily givens of food and shelter that Yeah. You know, we, we just assume it should be given to us. Yeah, no, I think that's exactly right.

Did you meet your wife at A&M? Y'all, both Aggies? 

No. She's actually an Auburn tiger. So, uh, yeah, we always joked when we were dating it's like, oh, yeah. I was like, well maybe we'll meet in the Cotton Bowl one year. And, uh, so, uh, Now, uh, we got, we got one weekend a year that, uh, she sits on one couch, and I sit on the other to watch that game.

Yeah. Well, luckily this year neither one of us are fighting for much. No, that's right. Yes. So, but, so she, uh, has a physical therapy company here in town and does really well with that. And, uh, you know, also is the, the farmer's wife and. You know, keeps everything going too. So, it, it, it is a family or organization and operation.

It, it takes all of us. 

Yeah, definitely. So, you're a member of the Cotton Growers Association and what's your role in the Cotton Growers Association? Well, I guess I'm the newly elected president of it. I've been vice president for a few years and then, um Awesome. Got elected, uh, this summer. Yes, sir. So, uh, we represent all the cotton growers in, uh, Southern Roman Plains, which is from right south of Abilene down to El Dorado is the further southeast would be around, kind of Brownwood over to Sterling City and that's kind of the way out, out outside boundaries of it.

We have a board of directors of cotton producers, and then also representatives from, uh, co-op cotton gins and the independent cotton gins. So, I guess as, as a Cotton Grower's Association, we kind of, uh, listen to the concerns of the cotton growers in our area and on different research techniques, topics, problems, and if that's growing a cotton.

Weed control, pest control, uh, government issues. And we're kind of the liaison between say, the extension and, uh, our political leaders and the cotton growers and the cotton gins, cotton warehouses. We all kind of have a say in it, and we're just kind of the, uh, elected representatives of our cotton producers to, um, do that.

So sometimes we, uh, go up to DC or to Austin and do some lobby work, especially when it comes time for a new farm bill. And, um, you know, we were lucky we had, uh, uh, House Ag Chairman Conway, uh, was from our district, so we really didn't have to do a lot, uh, of, um, walking the halls, um, over the last farm Bill cuz he knew our concerns and, you know, we could call him up and say, Hey. He's like, don't you guys, don't worry. And we, it was, he was a true blessing for the agriculture industry and, uh, glad, glad, uh, he, he's still, he's still around and help helping keep this, uh, nation guided. In the right direction. Yeah. So, but uh, it's, it's a lot of fun being on the organization and, um, meeting new people from around, uh, the globe and cotton growers and everyone in the industry.

That's, that's awesome. Have you found, uh, how do cotton farmers interact with each other? I mean, are they pretty open with the things that they're doing, that are working, the things they're doing that aren't working? Is it, is it like a pretty open community or are people kind of reserved to protect some of their particular practices? 

Yeah, that's kind of, it just depends. Everyone likes to complain when it doesn't go well and, um, it always, you know, looks better on the other side of the fence, but, you know, there's sometimes you need to keep your mouth shut when it comes to, you know, land is a big thing. Um, we're all fighting for land, uh, you know, with, with the, uh, we work hand in hand with the extension service and doing research.

And they, they have, you know, meetings throughout the year where, you know, farmers come together and, um, talk about some of the things that's been happening on their farms and concerns. So yeah, we work together pretty well, pretty good. 

That's good. That's good. What are, how has the cotton industry been doing with labor?

I mean, is labor a constant struggle for you guys? Like it is for everyone else, or, yeah, it is. Things going there. You know, when I, when I grew up, you know, as a young child, uh, being two and a half hours north of, you know, Acuña, Del Rio. Uh, we were a walking pattern for a lot of illegals coming through, and, um, they would, I, I remember them stopping by my grandparents' house a lot and, you know, hey, do you have work?

And, you know, there were times in, you know, you, there were no repercussions. You could, you could hire 'em if, you got caught, you settled up their wages and they got shipped back. You know, some of, some of the, uh, workers, you know, there were some amnesty programs in the eighties, you know, became green card holders and, uh, the SALs program.

Yeah. Yes. And um, you know, there were some Bracero programs even earlier than that, that, you know, you could. Employee kind of similar to almost the H-2A program, but, you know, no one wants to work on the farm. It's, it's a lot of work and it's, it's hard work. And, um, when you can go in, to town and work at just say like a hotel industry and work inside in the air conditioning and get paid more, not get your hands dirty and um, go home and be okay.

So, you know, that was always a challenge I saw with my grand grandfather and my dad is, you know, you always had to compete it seemed like with the hotels in Dallas. Yeah. Yeah. So, um, but you know, we were, we were lucky. We, uh, um, you know, with an invention of bigger machinery, um, GPS technology, uh, precision agriculture, technology, uh, you've Are able to do more with less manpower and, but it, that also comes with a, an investment cost. So, people have just had to adapt, and that labor is always an issue. Yeah. The, uh, the machinery has adapted. to hopefully compensate for that need. 

That, that is an interesting topic in of itself, is how innovation happens, particularly in an industry like agriculture, where usually the way that you see it is a consequence of labor scarcity or overly expensive labor.

That's what actually drives a lot of innovation into agriculture. And so, you know, there's, there's some sectors of agriculture that are still behind technologically because they've been able to. The, the investment in innovation hasn't been worth it. Uh, but it seems like it's been worth it for you guys for a long time.

Yes, and we've, we're not the biggest innovators when it comes to the newest technology, but we're, we're still keeping up. And, um, I'll just say like the newest cotton picker, if you ordered a new cotton picker for next. The, you know, that harvest the cotton, you're talking a million dollars for one piece of equipment.

Wild. That's crazy. Yep. So, I, uh, I don't have the newest and best, but, uh, if we still, we still make, yeah, yeah. No, that's great. Uh, what, what kind of, uh, if you were talking about in a perfect world, what kind of policy changes would you like to see in the agricultural industry? What would help you guys out?

You know, the biggest thing. is the uncertainty of weather. I mean, I, I just remember in college and even go into a lot of the, uh, National Cotton Organization shows and conventions, you know, it was like, oh, well if you do A, B, and C and you can do this variable rate fertilizer and variable rate seating and all this variable rate, uh, and you're gonna save this and you're gonna make more here and less, and it's like, When you look at West Texas, rainfall is our limiting factor.

And if we don't have rainfall, everything's out. I mean, we do have a lot of irrigation in our area, but still the groundwater levels rely on, um, how much rainfall we get. So, if ne next year it's not, we're not very optimistic because we haven't received a lot of rain this year. We did not have much of a cotton crop at all this past year.

Not much of Texas. Back to the political part of it is crop insurance. That's our biggest tool in our toolbox right now, is we have to pony up, you know, a good portion of that premium to, uh, take that risk. And farming in West Texas would be a lot different without, um, crop insurance. And it is a federally subsidized, you know, program, but you know, it is not a hundred percent federally subsidized.

You know, we, the farmer pays his fair share too, and, you know, takes a risk. So, but you know, when I go to a bank to renew my operating note, they want to know how much crop insurance, uh, I'm going to be guaranteed if there is a crop failure. So, um, that's, that's one of the big things that has to continue.

So, and you know, labor, uh, you know, people are adapting without it. Um, uh, there are a handful of people in our area that use like the H-2A program, but people just either downsize, get bigger equipment, or just make it work. We do, uh, have some H-2A employees and, uh, so my dad started with that.

When he was him and my mother, uh, they had a joint venture. And, um, after he passed away, I, I actually, I started doing the application for him. And, um, we've got a really good working relationship with the state work, state workforce commission, and, um, they are really, A good crew down there in Austin to work with.

If anyone ever gets any questions, hey, is this H-2A thing for me? Call those, uh, people down there. And they've been really helpful to us. So, I, I've been always doing the application myself and, you know, They, they will walk you through it. If there's a problem, they'll let you know... And, uh, they try to, you know, beat, beat the problem, uh, before, you know, the Department of Labor, uh, steps in.

They're like, hey, we are, we're seeing these applications come back. Rejection, rejection, you need to change this and this. So, man, they're, they've been really good to work with. So, um, you know, when we started the Reata Cotton Company, um, I, I took over, um, taking in some of my father's employees and doing H-2A.

Um, we've actually s um, you know, got a PERM application in for some of them, some of them, and, uh, kind of go in that direction. Um, they, uh, they're offer Mexico at this time and. We got some from down south Campeche and then some from Oaxaca. And, uh, it's, they're, they're sad. They've been traveling, traveling a lot.

They had, uh, a death in the family uh, um, uh, their father was sick. So, they've been traveling a lot back and forth this summer. And they see a lot of the unrest, not unrest, but the craziness on the border. And, um, it, it's sad for them because they've been coming over legally through the H-2A program.

Gosh, probably 15 years since, well, yeah, since 2000 is when they started coming over. And they are not long, no, not one day closer to being a resident or a citizen of the United States through the H-2A program than they were the first day. And that's what makes 'em real sad when they can go to the border and, you know, they, they, one of 'em hit, uh, you know, got on a bus from.

El Paso, you know, headed this way. And he said, man, it was from these people from, I don't know where they were from. They were wild and crazy. And they, you know, they, they, they, uh, they're here and. and it's like, why can't we do that? And, you know, they don't wanna do it illegally. Yeah. But, and, and it just saddens them.

They, um, yeah. And, and it does, me too. I mean, you know, their father came over and worked for my grandfather in the early eighties, and my father, and then, then me, and you know, they're here trying to do the same thing better. Their family. And, I mean, we all work great together and, uh, uh, I'm trying the best I can, but you know, I, I can't change politics.

Yeah, no, I know that's, uh, that, that's tough. But you know that, that at the end of the day, it's always better to, to do things the right way. And I'm glad that they, that they recognize that and, uh, the application thing is gonna be life-changing for those guys. So hopefully that gives a glimmer of hope that they're gonna be here and they're gonna be here the right way at, at some point for good.

The crop insurance thing is pretty interesting. It is a good way to incentivize people. Into either getting into farming or continuing to farm, which the way that I look at farming is we have a huge national interest. To look out for our farmers, to incentivize farming, to incentivize people to either continue farming or get into it to begin with.

And, you know, may, this may not be the case with, with cotton necessarily, but I mean, it's still, I, I would still put cotton in this bucket, but you know, like with our food or our vegetables, our, our, our meat production, we have a large national interest in ensuring that that's done domestically. And we've seen since, you know, since the beginning of COVID.

What happens when things are not done domestically is foreign policy impacts our ability to get those goods. And if those goods also encompass your clothing in your food, that can be pretty catastrophic if something happens that you can't control the inflow of those things. And so how do you do that?

How do you offset it? Well, you offset it by incentivizing people to actually get into these practices domestic. And I think that prop insurance is a, a great tool in the toolbox, like you mentioned to, to do just that. Yes, sir. And it's, it's still a risky operation and the Yeah. The amount of capital that it takes to have a farming operation.

It's, it's, it's, it's mind blowing. And, um, uh, there's, when, when, after my father passed away, I mean, there were some sleepless nights. It's like, oh my gosh. I mean, we, we, we added a couple zeros to the bottom to, to our operating note. And it, uh, it, it is, you know, back to my wife, I mean, it. You know, it, it was a challenge for her to accept and understand it all and you know me to educate her and it's like, hey, this is, you know what, what's going on and how we got all worked together on this.

And it's a challenge. 

Yeah, it certainly is. So, what advice would you give if you're talking to all those ag majors that a and m thinking about getting into the farming industry? What are some. What's some advice you'd give them? Yeah. Um, run, run fast, be an immigration lawyer. Go to law school.

Yeah. No, um, uh, I, uh, you know, have. Be diversified. That's, that's the, that's the big key. Um, diversify your education and diversify your income. The, I see a lot of problem with the people who rely a hundred percent on farming. And, you know, you have a bad year, and a bad year isn't when you have a zero crop.

Insurance will kick in and help. The, the bad year is when you are right above your insurance guarantee, but you have a hundred percent of your cost in it, so you're, you're losing money and that, that, those are the years that are hard to swallow. But if you have a secondary income off-farm income or custom work, can keep your family going, make those payments.

That's, that's the key. And, uh, it's rental property or, you know, investment property in town, managing what, whatever that takes to keep some cash flow coming in. Yeah. 

I, I love that. That's, that's great advice. What's the best way for our listeners to connect with you? Yeah, I'm on Facebook, so, uh, you can look up Reata Cotton Company, or my name, Doug Wilde.

Check it out. I've, I try to post some stuff, what the kids are doing. I. Uh, three young kids from fifth grade on down. We're actually restoring an old tractor for their 4-H project this year, so. Oh, so cool. We've been doing that, not, you know, that we didn't have much of a cotton crop this year. We've been spending a lot of barn work and teaching the kids some mechanics.

I've got two older girls and, uh, sometimes I have to bribe 'em with ice cream and popsicles to get 'em outside to work, but, uh, uh, whatever it takes and, uh, yeah, that's. That's great. Awesome. Well, yeah, no, we certainly look forward to, to seeing that. But we, we appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.

We really do. Yeah, it's great getting to talk to you and it was very interesting. Thank y'all for listening to the Immigration Guy Podcast. We really appreciate it. You can find us on our website, go to You can find me on LinkedIn and. Just search at Kyle Farmer, FLPC. Uh, you can find our law firm on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube.

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