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Serving: West

Verett leaves legacy of respect at PCG

Shelley E. Huguley swfp-shelley-huguley-verett-ncc-cotton.jpg
Steve Verett retires after 24 years with Plains Cotton Growers.
Farmer, cotton advocate, Steve Verett, to retire after 24 years with Plains Cotton Growers

Steve Verett has been an influential spokesman for High Plains cotton for more than 20 years.

 As CEO of Plains Cotton Growers in Lubbock, Verett’s influence reaches well beyond the High Plains, beyond Texas, beyond the Southwest, beyond the Cotton Belt and into the halls of Congress.

His efforts helped other agriculture commodities in battles to protect farm and ranch interests in numerous farm bills, crop insurance debates and trade negotiations.

Verett retired from PCG June 30, and his shoes will be hard to fill. He took over the PCG helm in 1997, only the third person to hold this role since PCG’s formation in 1956.

 

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Steve Verett, CEO, Plains Cotton Growers, Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by Ron Smith)

During his term, Verett has worked to maintain cotton’s place not only in the Texas High Plains economy but also as part of numerous federal farm bills, crop insurance debates, and regulatory discussions that affect cotton and other commodities across the nation. He’s worked with volunteer leaders, staff members, and other commodity associations to preserve needed farm programs during periods of budget cuts, environmental overreach, and natural disasters.

Farmers’ respect

The farmer/leaders with whom he’s worked praise his passion for agriculture and his ability to represent their issues to local, state, and federal legislators.

“No one is more passionate about agriculture and cotton than Steve Verett,” says farmer and past PCG President Barry Evans, Kress, Texas.

swfp-shelley-huguley-barry-evans.jpgBarry Evans, producer and past PCG president, Kress, Texas. (Photo by Shelley E. Huguley)

“He understands the issues from a practical standpoint because he is a cotton farmer. What he has done has benefitted farmers across the Belt and across commodities.”

Evans says Verett is a skilled communicator. “When he talks to a congressman or an aide, he can tell them when they are wrong and not make them angry. He’s friendly but not a pushover. He gets his point across without being offensive.”

He says Verett’s background, first as a farmer and then as an advocate for cotton, makes him a credible spokesman. “He knows what he’s talking about and the people he talks to knows he knows what he’s talking about. He has earned respect across the industry.”

Eddie Smith, Floydada, farmer and a past president of the National Cotton Council, says he and Verett go back a long way, back to high school. “We were neighbors on our respective farms. With PCG, our relationship got even stronger.”

Smith says he and Verett followed each other around when they were representing the National Cotton Council and PCG in Washington and around West Texas cotton gins.

“He speaks from a farmer’s viewpoint, communicating to representatives in Washington. His hands-on experience, understanding of what’s going on in the countryside, is an asset. He is respected across the country.”

Smith says Verett’s work on numerous farm bills was instrumental in getting farmers the best programs possible.

“We will miss him in the industry, but he will still be around.”

Petersburg farmer and past PCG president Ronnie Hopper says it’s easy to say “nice things about Steve Verett. The deepest friendships come from working together to achieve a common end on cotton policy. We pull on the same harness.”

Hopper says having “some skin in the game,” is an important factor in leadership. “That’s true with Steve.”

He also describes Verett’s management style. “We see two approaches for commodity board leaders. One is a manager who tries to wow the board and convince them how smart he is. The other is a person who tries to run the business as if it were his own and accepts suggestions from the board. That’s Steve.”

 He adds that in Washington, commodity organizations usually have limited time to “sell their ideas to legislators. He’s always very effective. I trust Steve Verett.”

Farmer Shawn Holladay, Lubbock, also a former PCG president, says PCG has thrived under Verett’s leadership. “He’s taken PCG not to just another level but to the premier grower organization in the country. He’s been instrumental in everything we’ve accomplished to make things better for the farmer.”

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Steve Verett with the Honorable Mike Conaway and Shawn Holladay, farmer and former PCG president. (Photo by Mary Jane Buerkle)

Holladay says Verett’s passion comes from his background as a cotton farmer. “In Washington, Memphis, Lubbock, or anywhere else, he works with a passion for what’s going on at the farm. He never left the farm.”

He says from crop insurance, farm bills, and administrative duties, “something pops up daily or weekly. Steve has developed a staff and volunteer leaders who are exceptional at managing these things. We don’t always get all we want, but we get the best deal we can. One of his biggest strengths is not taking no for an answer until the very end and then he gets the best deal he can. He looks for what’s possible.”

Holladay says he’s learned leadership skills from Verett. “He taught me to leave no stone unturned. Anything I’ve accomplished in my terms in leadership was due, in part, to his mentoring. If I have ever been effective, I owe a lot, if not most, of my success, to Steve.”

Wide-ranging influence

Verett has earned respect beyond the High Plains and across commodities.

 National Cotton Council President/CEO Gary Adams says that after participating in the Council’s 1985 Cotton Leadership Class, Verett continued to embrace several leadership roles as part of his wide range and many years of service to the U.S. cotton industry.

“Verett has been a member of the Council's Conservation Task Force and its Cotton Leaf Roll Dwarf Virus Working Group. He also has been serving as an advisor to the American Cotton Producers' Farm Policy Task Force and its Crop Insurance Working Group as well as to the board of Cotton Council International, the Council’s export promotions arm.

 “Steve always has represented the needs of West Texas producers while collaborating with producer organizations from other regions to craft and support policies that work across the Cotton Belt,” Adams says. "Those efforts included active engagement in crafting effective farm policy and critical crop insurance products. We wish Steve all the best in his retirement."

“I was fortunate, 23 years ago, to have Steve as a friend and a mentor,” says Jeff Nunley, executive director, South Texas Cotton and Grain.

“Early on, as a leader for a small association, it was wise to make friends with a guy who runs a big one. I tried to emulate him and PCG because it is successful. He helped me get better at what I do.”

Nunley says collaboration between associations has been crucial. “Steve and I often sat together and shared ideas.

jeff-nunley-webb.jpgJeff Nunley, executive director, South Texas Cotton and Grain (Photo by April Nunley

“Steve, farms, too. That’s an asset. His background helps him in policy decisions. He has passion and skin in the game.”

Nunley says Verett has influenced a lot of farm policy over the past two decades. “Even though his name is not on a lot of policy, his fingerprints are on much of it. Much happens in the background; he’s a part of that. And agriculture has benefited from it.

“I hate to see him go. We’re good friends, too.”

“Steve's passion has encouraged and been a great example to all of us in agriculture,” says Texas Corn Producers Association Executive Director David Gibson. “Seeing how he involved his grower leaders was impressive. His efforts made the voice for Texas agriculture stronger.

“It has been a pleasure to work alongside Steve representing the needs of farmers at many levels. We have worked on farm bills, crop insurance, and all types of agriculture policy issues in Texas and Washington D.C. He is a hard worker with a huge passion for making a better situation for producers - not only in Texas, but across the country. Steve, my friend, you will be missed!”

Eddie McBride, president and CEO of the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce, says Steve Verett’s leadership has been a boon to the Lubbock area economy.

“Steve Verett leaves a legacy on the High Plains of Texas and beyond thanks to his vast agribusiness knowledge, ability to communicate and leadership within our business community,” McBride says.

“Steve served in numerous capacities at the Lubbock Chamber, from participating in our agriculture committee, political action committees and as chairman. He not only spent an entire career advocating for agriculture in West Texas, but also worked to feed and clothe the country as a producer himself. He still helps out on the family farm.

“He gives back to his community in a variety of capacities and will continue to serve as a trusted counsel to elected officials and farmers from Lubbock to D.C.”

Joe Outlaw, Texas A&M Regents Fellow, professor & Extension economist and co-director, Agricultural and Food Policy Center, says Verett has been a key player in crafting numerous farm bills and a key voice in supporting cotton’s interests.

“Steve has been a force in the Texas and national ag policy scene for many years and will be greatly missed,” Outlaw says.

“Early in my career, I leaned on Steve and a few others as I figured out how to be a policy specialist.  He was always willing to help Texas agriculture in any way… while he wasn’t afraid to tell you when you're wrong, he always conducted himself as a true Southern gentleman.

“Steve’s influence on the cotton industry goes far beyond Texas as he has greatly impacted national farm policy for many years.”

Staff praise leadership

Current and former PCG staff praise Verett’s leadership and counsel.

 “I could not work for anyone who treats employees better than Steve,” says Johnny Anderson, who recently retired after serving as PCG field representative for more than 25 years.

“He hires the right people to do the right job. PCG is a big organization and Steve is as good [at management] as anyone I have been associated with. Whether he’s working in Washington on farm bills, farm payments, or anything that helps producers stay in business, he works for farmers. I think the world of Steve Verett.”

Retired PCG Vice President of Operations Roger Haldenby, now living in Viet Nam, says he and Verett go back to 1989. “I was in charge of the boll weevil program,” Haldenby says. “Steve was on the grower steering committee.

mj-verett-hanlenby.jpgSteve Verett, left, Roger Haldenby, right. (Photo by Mary Jane Buerkle)

“Steve was the natural choice to lead PCG into a new era as CEO of [a crucial] producer organization. As a West Texas cotton farmer, he brought a unique personal voice to represent his fellow growers in the country’s largest cotton patch.”

Mary Jane Buerkle was PCG director of communications and public affairs until her recent resignation to work in a family business. “Working for Steve and for PCG has been one of the most incredible experiences of my career,” Buerkle says.

“I knew his retirement day would come but I often wished time would just stand still. Steve leads by example, which makes him an effective leader. He has a love for this industry and for his fellow producers that is unmatched. That drives his efforts in advocating for them.

“Steve leaves a legacy that enabled PCG to rise to many challenges and opportunities over the past 20-plus years. All of us who worked for or with him are better for it.”

Shawn Wade, PCG director of policy analysis and research, says Verett is respected across the Cotton Belt, “because of his tireless focus on improving the ability of cotton producers to be successful and survive in often perilous market and weather conditions.

“His leadership has been key to the organization’s ability to adapt and represent cotton producers effectively at every level of government. He has helped provide innovative risk management and risk sharing programs that have benefited cotton producers in Texas and around the country.”

Kody Bessent, vice president of operations and legislative affairs, moves from that position to CEO on Verett’s retirement.

See photo gallery, Verett retires after 24 years at PCG

“I will certainly ease into some big shoes,” Bessent says. "During my time with PCG and prior to that, I looked up to Steve as a mentor and a friend.”

In previous positions with other boards, Bessent says he often “worked in tandem on state and federal issues. I have learned humility and many other lessons from Steve that I can carry forward to transition to the lead role at PCG.”

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PCG Staff, from left, Kody Bessent, vice president of operations and legislative affairs, Dava Denson, office manager, Steve Verett, Mary Jane Buerkle, former director of communications and public affairs, Mark Brown, director of field services, and Shawn Wade, director of policy analysis and research. (Photo courtesy of PCG)

He says he’s grateful that Verett “gave me the opportunity by hiring me at PCG. It’s a blessing and honor to work with Steve Verett.”

Bessent says PCG faces new challenges as agriculture adapts to a different congressional makeup on both sides of the aisle. “We’re looking at new policy initiatives, and we want to assure that producers are at the forefront of policy-making.”

He assumes the reins of an organization recognized for credibility, strong grower support, and respect from Lubbock, Texas, to the legislative offices in Washington, D.C.  Much of that reputation has been nurtured by Steve Verett’s tireless, knowledgeable, and passionate dedication to cotton and agriculture.


 

 

 

 

 

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