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With dedication to stewardship, quality production and leadership, along with a generational approach to making it all work, Andy Wendland is the 2024 Farm Press/The Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award winner for the Southeast.

Brad Haire, Executive Editor

February 14, 2024

8 Min Read
Andy Wendland is the 2023 Farm Press/The Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award winner for the Southeast.Brad Haire

It was Nov. 29, and harvest season had stretched a bit longer than normal. Andy Wendland watched his son, Drew, aim the picker into the last acres of the family’s 2023 cotton crop.

With dedication to stewardship, quality production and leadership, along with a generational approach to making it all work, Andy Wendland is the 2024 Farm Press/The Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award winner for the Southeast.

Don’t try and make him accept that alone. 

“I’m proud to get the honor, very proud, but all we are able to accomplish every day is done with a team effort,” he said. “I may be the offensive coordinator or maybe even sometimes the referee, but without the team we have now, we wouldn’t get it done.” 

Autauga Farming Company is spread over Autauga and Montgomery counties just west of Montgomery, Ala. If you can grow it in a field, orchard, or raise it in a pasture or pen, they’ve likely done it. 

In 2023, they planted 2,400 acres of row crops, which included 1,100 of cotton and about 600 acres of corn. They also planted oats, wheat and sesame. They maintain a large brood-herd and manage about 2,200 acres of pasture and hay. 

They sell bulk fertilizer to area growers and offer prescription applications and custom-harvest services. Andy is a director at SunSouth, a regional John Deere dealer.

Related:High-quality, sustainable cotton with a generational approach

The team

Andy, 57, is married to Dawn, who is a regarded educator. They have five grown children, with several grandchildren on the ground now and several more in the spring, all living close. 

Katie, their oldest daughter, is married and works for the Alabama Cooperative Extension. Drew is married and works full-time on the farm. Will Howard is married and works with Greenpoint Ag. Dan is married and works full-time on the farm, and he is an officer in the Alabama National Guard. Emma, the youngest, is a senior nursing student.

All active employees on the farm can pitch in anywhere, but each one has a special place on the field. 

Drew, 29, is drawn to agronomics and is a certified crop advisor. He leads the row crop operation. 

Dan, 25, rides herd on the 1,000-head brood operation, which is well respected. The breeding program includes Angus, Charolais, and Hereford bulls. They market calves in August through Producers Feeder Calf Sale, a group of progressive central-Alabama cattlemen and cattlewomen who sell value-added feeders nationwide, and a group Andy’s father, Buzz, established.

Andy’s nephew, Charlie Rhodes, 29, is married. Charlie and Dan work together managing the cattle herd and hay production. They grow enough hay to feed their herd through winter as needed, plus sell large volumes of hay to other operations. Charlie has a knack for sales and marketing and helped grow the family’s customer base.

Related:30th High Cotton class recognized

Carol DeLoach has been the office manager for 30 years. “She’s really the one who keeps us straight,” Andy said. 

A few years ago, the Wendlands started participating in H-2A, the federal guestworker program, to find additional qualified help. In 2023, they had four young South African men working with them: Stefan Luus, brothers Henko and Albe De Nysschen and Albert Oelofse. Robert Jackson and Mitchell Smith have been working with the Wendland family for nearly 30 years. Smith started with Andy’s grandfather, Will Howard Smith, in the late 1960s.

Cotton production

They shoot for 3-bale irrigated cotton or 2.5 bales non-irrigated, but that goal can vary, especially when environmental or market conditions don’t cooperative, like in 2023. 

“I think this year's (2023) cotton crop has been a rollercoaster. We had a good start to the season and a good fruit set. But late in the year, the rain turned off. Anything that we would've been able to set in the top, we didn’t, and we weren't able to keep until harvest. Yields have been down in my part of the state. We’re going to be below average. I’m not sure how far below average,” Drew said. 

Related:Edward Greer: Delta High Cotton Award winner

Drew said 2023 emphasized “that the timing of the water may be a little more important than just the total amount.” The farm is about 15% irrigated. Most of the growers in their region experienced the same mixed results, with the southwestern and Gulf Coast regions of the state harder hit. 

After harvest, they look at their gin results, “and then gauge the temperature on acres and where we want to place acres and how we want to rotate,” Drew said. They primarily use a corn-cotton rotation. 

They’ve ramped up their cover cropping in recent years and now 60% or better of the cotton acres get an oat-rye cover planted soon after harvest. They start soil sampling in January, typically taking 2.5-acre grid samples one year and then do five-acre zone samples for two or three years following per field. 

“We build our zones. We’ll lime and do our P and K using variable rates using a prescription based on the previous fertility removal and then build our algorithm. We set our yield target, know what that's going to remove (from the soil), and then go ahead and replace that ahead of the season. And we will set yield targets for what we want it to be when we're done with it,” Drew said. 

Building that soil fertility bank provides economic and management flexibility, and they can put a dollar value on it: When prices are good and maybe input costs are lower, they can dip deeper into that bank and shoot for top yields. Years when prices are lower and inputs are higher, like now and what seems like too many years in a row, they can realistically shoot for a profitable yield target. 

Their crop consultant, Richard Davis, helps guide them. GreenPoint teams help with management in season and analytics in the off season, Drew said.

In February, they strip into green cover and let the middle cover grow an additional 45 days to 60 days. “Sometimes we plant green, and we'll terminate at plant and sometimes we'll burn down ahead of planting. It depends on how many people we have available,” Drew said. 

They start planting in late April, with prime planting window the first two weeks of May. The tractors and planters are green. They primarily plant Deltapine varieties but also plant NextGen, Phytogen and Armor varieties. 

They run 38-inch rows, using a three-way herbicide mix to clean up weeds, combining something like glyphosate or dicamba, along with Valor, Warrant, Dual Magnum, Cotoran or Diuron, Drew said, “which we choose based on weed pressure and history in that field and not using a one-size-fits-all approach.” 

At most, Drew said, he’ll use only one in-season dicamba application, and in 2023 only used that one application in a few heavy weed spots. 

They side-dress liquid 28-0-0-5, targeting first bloom, using a coulter-rig, shooting for a total of 90 units of nitrogen per acre, which would include what they got from the diammonium phosphate prior to planting.

Sustainable leadership

The Wendlands were early participants and champions of the U.S Trust Protocol, and enrolled in the Climate Smart Cotton Program, which aims to accelerate the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices, which the global textile industry and end-users like and may soon demand.

“The cotton industry has great leadership and organizations that we need to remain competitive. I’ve been able to learn more about that in recent years and about our groups and how they work together to help us stay competitive and, hopefully, profitable,” Andy said. “And for me to be able to do that, it takes this team right here on this farm. No other way.” 

Andy is currently involved in leadership with:

  • Cotton Incorporated (director and vice chair of Research & Development Committee)

  • Southern Cotton Growers (board of directors)

  • Alabama Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation (board of directors)

  • Alabama Cotton Commission

  • Alabama Wheat & Feed Grains Committee

  • Autauga Quality Cotton Association (board of directors)

Joey Scarborough manages Milstead Farm Group Inc., the cotton gin where Wendland gins and is a shareholder. The Wendlands also gin at Blackbelt Gin.

“The family is firmly vested in the agriculture industry of Central Alabama. They all share a desire to increase the productivity of their farm and make sure they are taking steps that will give future generations the opportunity to help feed and clothe their neighbors,” Scarborough said. 

Steve Brown is the state’s cotton specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“I’ve visited several cotton fields on their farm this year (2023) and was most impressed not only with the beauty and lay of the land, but also with the overall management of the crop. In a year in which plant bug numbers exceeded historical levels and plagued many fields, their crop had few losses to plant bugs due primarily to good scouting and timely management inputs,” Brown said. 

Back to the Wendland cotton harvest on that late-November day, Albe De Nysschen had replaced Drew in the picker to finish up. Andy, Drew, Dan and Charlie stood together a little while longer near the field, discussed a few things and laughed at one or two other things. 

One thing wasn’t discussed, but it’s obvious and important. They were all actively working to transition the farm from one generation to the next, with each person bringing something unique to the operation, or their spot on the team, to grow to the future. Andy learned this from his father, Mr. Buzz Wendland, an Air Force pilot and Kansas native who met his wife, Diane, in Montgomery while she was volunteering at the Air Force base hospital there. He was sent to Montgomery to rehabilitate after a bad car wreck. They bought land and settled in nearby Autaugaville. 

Mr. Buzz died in the spring of 2023. Mrs. Diane died in the spring five years earlier. They raised a family on the farm and were married 61 years. 

As the cotton picker dumped another round bale, the men broke the huddle. There was plenty of daylight and other things to get done. 

The Wendlands, along with fellow 2023 winners Edward Greer of Rayville, La., Richard Gaona of Texas, and Jerry Rovey of Buckeye, Ariz., will be honored during the High Cotton Awards Breakfast March 1 in Memphis, Tenn., in conjunction with the annual Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.

The High Cotton award is sponsored by: Americot, BASF Stonevilee/FiberMax, Deltapine, Dyna-Gro, Helena, John Deere, PhytoGen, Syngenta

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