“Johnny works full time for Continental Gin and technically isn’t a consultant, and Wendell Cooper works with growers affiliated with the gin in Emporia. Between them, these two guys know as much about cotton production as anyone in the state and they help a lot of cotton growers during the growing season. Price is a factor in increasing cotton acreage, but so is having someone like Johnny to provide information,” Crumpler says.

Back in the early 1990s brothers Tom and Lynn Alpin were struggling to build a cotton gin into a sustainable agri-business. When they hired Johnny Parker away from the Virginia Cooperative Extension System, there were some people who questioned whether it was good business move for either party.

“One of the first years we had the gin, we had a cotton crop that must have grown to 6-7 feet tall. It was lush and green — and big. Every farmer thought they had 4-5 bale cotton,” Tom Alpin says.

Back then we didn’t know a lot about growing cotton, but we learned real quick that bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to cotton plants. It was a real awakening for a lot of Virginia farmers and really could have slowed the growth in cotton acres in the state, he adds.

After a few such surprises from cotton, the Alpin brothers made what seemed at the time to be a questionable business move when they hired Parker to work full time with their growers to help them grow better cotton. “It’s been a great business move for us and Johnny is like another brother — a part of the family,” Tom Alpin says.

Though other gins in the state have cotton consultants who work with their growers, it is still a bit different to have a full time person on staff to help with the production end of cotton. Parker, through his radio show and by virtue of talking cotton with anyone who needs help, helps growers regardless of where they gin their cotton.

The 2011 cotton crop has been a frustrating one to say the least, Parker says. “We had a big crop planted and potentially one of our top producing crops. Cotton plants were well loaded and we seemed to be getting rain at just the right time. We were even talking about the possibility of setting a state record with an average of over 1,000 pounds per acre,” Parker says.

By the end of August cotton looked really good. Then, Hurricane Irene hit and started a series of events that is almost sure to cut our yields, he adds.