Ray Young has had a life-long dedication to improving cotton production. “We need continued research from universities and allied industry to develop better cotton varieties, crop protection products and practices,” says the Louisiana consultant/grower Young, who lives in Wisner, La.
“And we must constantly reassess old recommendations, such as those for fertility, to make sure they are relevant to our new varieties and practices. Agriculture has always been a risky business, so we must minimize risk as much as possible through research and innovation.”
He is the nation’s longest-tenured crop consultant, having started scouting cotton for insects in 1949, and for his decades of service to cotton and agriculture, he was named the 2019 recipient of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association Vandergriff Pioneer Award. The award recognizes those who have made contributions that represent industry-changing advancements.
When he was only 14 years old in 1943, Young managed the family farm near Hico by himself, and continued doing so in 1944 and 1945 while attending school in north central Louisiana. His father worked away from home as a bridge builder, and his two older brothers went away to World War II. Young ran the farm and his father came home on weekends to line him up on what he should do the following week.
At that time, Young farmed with mules, not tractors. “We farmed in the hills in north central Louisiana,” he says. “There were very few tractors in our area at that time. It was another five or six more years before tractors really came into our part of the world.”
BOLL WEEVIL STRUGGLE
Young participated and promoted many other changes in the cotton industry. Battling the invasion of the boll weevil was a major struggle. “In 1947, we finally caught a break with the availability of chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticide — it was death on weevils,” he says.
“To preserve the efficacy of this new boll weevil control material, the late Louisiana producer Dan Logan urged other growers to avoid dusting cotton fields unless there was something out there to dust. Logan said we needed to check the fields and treat only when necessary instead of making blanket insecticide applications on a washday schedule.
“That’s when professional consulting began. It came on the scene partly because we had such good products to control weevils, and we didn’t want to apply them automatically. Logan said that in 1948, and I started consulting in 1949. Since then, the independent crop consultant profession has developed so today we have licensed consultants who undergo yearly training, with professional consultant associations like the Louisiana Agricultural Consultants Association and the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants supporting them.”
Controlling boll weevils was good, but eradicating them was better, Young says. Boll weevil eradication was another major accomplishment for the cotton industry. “If we hadn’t eradicated the boll weevil, we wouldn’t be growing cotton in the Mid-South today,” he says. “Boll weevil eradication saved the cotton industry. Dr. James Brazzell, who grew up one cotton field away from us, is credited with initiating the research that led to the weevil’s eradication.”
The mechanical cotton picker was another major innovation that Young says transformed the cotton industry. Between the late 1940s and the late 1960s, mechanical picking of the cotton crop went from about zero to nearly 100 percent. In addition to picking the crop faster, the new machines drastically reduced the man hours needed to harvest the crop.
“Up until the introduction of the mechanical picker, cotton was all hand-picked,” Young says. “Hand pickers could pick from 200 pounds to 300 pounds a day. It mostly took six or seven people to pick a bale of cotton in a day. Today’s baler pickers will pick 90 acres to 100 acres a day; it would take 2,000 hand pickers to pick as much as one of these machines.”
The cotton module builder was another innovation that was almost as important as the mechanical cotton picker, he says. “We were some of the first growers to module our cotton. Many growers resisted putting their cotton in a module because they were worried that it would be a month or two before the cotton would get ginned. Instead, they were willing to sit in long lines with other cotton trailers so they could get their cotton ginned within the next two days instead of waiting three weeks or longer.”
Gin-owned warehouses were another advancement that Young advocated. It’s said that Louisiana grower/ginner Jack Hamilton revolutionized the cotton warehouse business. Instead of storing their cotton bales at Federal Compress, grower-owned gins began constructing their own warehouses, which helped growers with their marketing and gave more money back to them.
Young says solutions in cotton sometimes seemed to come “just in time”. “We saw pyrethroids come along just in time to control budworms, and later Bt cotton came along just in time to save us from budworms when pyrethroids failed.”
He also has witnessed technology traits in cotton varieties that not only help control insects like budworms, but also weeds, beginning with Roundup Ready cotton. “We’re now mixing the new technology with some of the old technology, like dicamba and 2,4-D, to control troublesome weeds like pigweed.”
All four of Ray and Dorothy’s children — Tony, Jesse, June, and Peggy — worked on the family farm as they were growing up. During the summers while they were in college, Jesse and Tony were active in the family’s consultant business with Ray. After graduating from college, Jesse worked full time on the farm and in the consulting business, and he kept the home fires burning while Ray travelled to meetings on agriculture’s behalf to discuss topics such as crop insurance, Farm Credit Bank, farm legislation, and regulations. Today, Ray still works on the farm and consults a little, and Jesse concentrates on their farm, Young & Young Farms.
Where do you begin listing Rat Young’s many awards and accomplishments? He is the nation’s longest-tenured crop consultant, who started scouting cotton for insects in 1949 — a concept of field scouting that has developed into nationwide consulting businesses.
He was selected by his peers for induction into the Louisiana Agricultural Hall of Fame, and twice was named National Agricultural Consultant of the Year. He is a past president of the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants and the Louisiana Agricultural Consultants Association. He was a board member of the national Farm Credit Council and the Coalition of American Agricultural Producers. He also was a long-time board member of Louisiana Land Bank and helped organize the bank, and was a 2017 inductee into the Louisiana Agriculture Hall of Distinction. And from 1950-1955 he was a carrier pilot in the U.S. Navy.
Other awards and recognitions include:
ν 1981 and 1990, named Outstanding Conservation Farmer for Northeast Louisiana (only person to be named twice) by the Soil and Water Conservation District.
ν 1983, pioneered and introduced the stale seedbed conservation tillage system, known as no-till. This system is now used all over the South with all crops.
ν 1988, National Consultant of the Year by ICI.
ν 1988, National Professional Hall of Fame by Ag Consultant Magazine.
ν 1989, National Cotton Achievement Award by Cotton Grower Magazine.
ν 1992, Progressive Farmer Magazine: Man of the Year in Service to Agriculture.
ν 1996, National Consultant of the Year by Cotton Farming Magazine.
ν 1998, named the first Louisiana State Farmer of the Year by Louisiana Agri-Network, Louisiana Cooperative Extension, Louisiana Department of Agriculture.
ν 2004, Service Award by National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants, the first time this award was given.
ν 2008, honored by AMVAC Company for outstanding leadership in all aspects of life, with donation of $12,500 to National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants for “Ray Young Leadership Initiative Program.”
ν 2009, Cotton Consultant of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award by Syngenta and Cotton Farming Magazine, the first time this award has ever been given.
ν 2011, Louisiana Agricultural Crop Consultants started the Ray and Dorothy Young Endowment in Plant Science at Louisiana State University for a graduate student in Plant Science, valued $300,000; this endowment is fully funded by peers.
Roger Carter: “When God appoints a saint representing agriculture, the ONLY logical one to be considered will be Mr. Ray,” says Roger Carter. “He is a Christian and so well-known throughout the industry in any of the cotton-producing states represented by the Southern Cotton Ginners Association, that he is simply known as Mr. Ray — no last name is needed for him to be recognized.
“He is a mentor, an inspiration, and a true friend to literally thousands of cotton agricultural consultants, contract researchers, farmers, ginners, buyers, warehousemen, ag-chem and fertilizer salesmen and dealers, and aerial applicators. There is no one in cotton production who does not recognize the name ‘Mr. Ray’, or the man. He is considered the most respected southern gentleman by all who have ever met him. Many learn more in riding in the truck with Mr. Ray for an hour than in gathering a year of educational credits via lecturing from any agricultural university currently in operation. Mr. Ray makes learning fun, and contagious.
“And while I think of the man when I hear ‘Mr. Ray’, I know that behind every great man is an even greater, brilliant, and beautiful lady who is running the show. While Mr. Ray does much of the field work, Mrs. Dorothy is keeping the doors open, the lights on, the bankers confused, and is ruling the roost at home. They are a team and when one mentions Mr. Ray, most of us who know him, think of Ms. Dorothy as well. They are the epitome of what we think of as a good working pair of Georgia mules. You seldom see one without the other being within earshot. They often work in lock-step, but if one of them falters, the other is there to take up the slack.
“Mr. Ray is a great patriot, a veteran pilot who keeps up with his squadron. He is dedicated to our country, yet is dedicated to a power more powerful than our military and that power is our Lord, his Lord! I know of no greater Christian than Mr. Ray. He has lived his whole life as he thinks God would want him to! God is more important to him than farming and more important than his family!”
“Many of us have truly been blessed to have Mr. Ray’s life’s path cross our life’s path. He is a very blessed man and by knowing him, we are blessed.
Reynold Minsky: “Ray and I worked together to make the Jack Hamilton chair at Louisiana State University a reality. The persistent nature Ray has to accomplish anything worthy of having, regardless of what it was, always made it a pleasure to work with him. I am very pleased to have had Ray as a friend and mentor. Thank you, Ray!
Hank Jones: “There’s really nothing I can add to Mr. Ray’s legend. The biggest impact he has had on me is the example he sets. He is a rare person in that he sees the good in everyone he meets. I’ve never heard him speak ill of anyone in terms of ability, performance or personality. He even sees the good in a bad piece of land...always having a game plan to improve and make something better — people, land, LSU AgCenter, local, state, and federal government. He is a steady encourager. Mr. Ray holds people to whom he’s close to a high standard. We should all be thankful for that. The path he’s made for many in agriculture will be maintained by people like him that see his work and value it. Let’s hope we can all carry his torch forward.”
Howard Anderson: “When Ray started his consulting business in Wisner, Louisiana, I was the first person he hired to work on his crew. We spent two nights on the road each week in some real dive motels and ate our lunch while driving to the next field. I worked nine years with him through college and grad school.”
Jerry McGee: “In the early ’90s, Ray Young was planting no-till cotton and burning down with Roundup. David Ball, Rohm and Haas, thought adding Goal to Roundup would work. I was a research and development rep at the time and I put out a replicated test comparing mixtures. It was a perfect fit. We showed it to Steve Crawford at LSU St. Joseph. Minimum-till and burndown across the world were born thanks to Ray Young and his cooperation with others.”
Grady Coburn: “I’ve known Ray Young professionally for almost six decades, as a field scout checking cotton for him back in 1961 and later as a scout supervisor and young aspiring cotton consultant in 1968. After graduate school and a short stint with the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, it was he that I called to see if there was an opportunity to begin an agricultural consulting business in the central Louisiana area where I had worked for him in the ’60s. His encouragement was overwhelming and exactly what I had hoped to hear. That early training, encouragement, and continuous offers of help and advice since have instilled in me the desire to follow suit when the opportunity arises.
“I can think of no one more deserving of this prestigious award than Ray Young. His dedication to agriculture in general, and cotton specifically, is well documented through his vast experience in crop production for almost eight decades. He was part of the earliest efforts into scouting cotton (mostly for boll weevils) in the 1940s, and his pioneering experiences into minimum as well as no-till practices in cotton production and other crops are now accepted and utilized in most agricultural areas.
“The Vandergriff Pioneer Award selection committee has set their bar very high by acknowledging the lifework in cotton of Ray Young, my mentor and my friend.”
Richard Costello: “Mr. Ray has made many trips to Washington to advocate not only for Louisiana agriculture, but also U.S. agriculture as a whole. It will be hard to replace him in that role when he decides not to do it any more. Some of us are really going to have to step up to keep that dialogue going with Washington like he’s had.