I regret missing the Beltwide Cotton Conferences this year. I always look forward to these meetings with a bit of nostalgia — and a bit of dread.
I know I’ll see folks from the cotton industry with whom I’ve visited, learned from, or just palled around with since I first got into this business. I also know that my feet, back and head will ache midway through the first day. But it’s worth it.
I was especially looking forward to this year’s conferences because I expected to have the opportunity to introduce the 2015 Southwest High Cotton winner at the annual awards breakfast. I’m sorry I missed that opportunity, because Ronnie Hopper and his son, R.N., are well-deserving of the honor and serve as excellent examples of why I love this job.
I don’t know how many times I’ve interviewed them — about general cotton production, stewardship, and water management, among other things. I interviewed R.N. once about his leadership position in 4-H.
For the latest on southwest agriculture, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.
They also represent what I see in farmers across the Southwest — across the nation, actually — a reverence for family, and a responsibility they see as an imperative to turn the farm over to the next generation in better condition than they found it.
Ronnie and R.N. certainly do that.
It was obvious when I did the interviews back in the fall, just before a late crop began to open, that family is the basic building block of their operation. Family and faith comprise the overriding philosophy of their farmstead.
The first time I visited the Hoppers, out in Petersburg, about an hour north and east of Lubbock, Ronnie had given me good directions on how to find his place — to a point. He got me on the right FM road, but that’s where I ran into difficulty. He had suggested that I look for the house, set off the side of the road, with a red roof.
Easy to find, I thought, when I jotted down the directions the day before. But we didn’t consider the capricious nature of Texas weather. When it snows, all roofs turn white.
I don’t remember how long I drove up and down that road looking for a patch of red to show through melting snow. I finally determined that one particularly neat-looking farm house, with equipment placed in military precision around the barns, had to be the Hopper place. I remind Ronnie of that visit most every time I see him.
I always enjoy spending a few hours with him. I learn a lot about farming and I pick up a lot about farmer philosophy — and we typically laugh a little bit. I also can always tell he’s proud of the role his son plays on the farm, and how much family means to both of them.
That’s why, even though I dreaded having to call and tell him I wouldn’t be able to introduce him at the awards breakfast, I knew he would understand. I explained that Pat had undergone back surgery the week before and that leaving her to fend for herself simply was not an option.
He agreed. Family comes first. Neither of us would have it any other way.
Ronnie and R.N. — farmers, leaders, friends — congratulations on an honor well-deserved.