They rode into Cary, N.C., from all over — “young guns” looking to quench their thirst for knowledge, not to mention finding out what was happening with their money.

When they left town a couple of days later, they were more than satisfied that it was being put to good use. They got the low-down on ring spinning, dyeing and finishing of cotton fiber and even something called 3-D denim jeans. Good stuff. New stuff that would keep cotton competitive and profitable for them.

There would be no need to slap leather tonight.

All kidding aside, this wasn’t your usual cotton producer tour of Cotton Incorporated’s North Carolina research facility. The “Young Guns Tour” was for young cotton producers in their 20s and 30s, with long careers, perhaps even leadership roles, ahead of them. Most of them are already solid cotton producers, but perhaps still a little wet behind the ears when it comes to understanding the various organizations supporting the U.S. cotton industry.

“The national average median age of farmers is over 57,” noted Brad Robb, vice-president of communications for the Memphis-based Cotton Board. “The Young Guns Tour was created to show young cotton producers the global impact the (producer-funded) Cotton Research & Promotion Program makes on their behalf to keep their operations not only profitable but sustainable for the long term — while also hopefully shoring up their support for this program.”

Mead Hardwick

For Mead Hardwick, son of Jay Hardwick, a Newellton, La., cotton producer and current chairman of Cotton Incorporated, the tour was another small step toward a return home to his father’s operation after a stint in commercial real estate in Dallas, Texas.

“My wife and I are currently trying to unwind our existing careers in Dallas, but we’re on a glide path (to get back to the farm) of anywhere between 12 months and 18 months.”

Mead will be joined on the farm by his brother, Marshall, who currently is working on a master’s degree in agronomy from Louisiana State University. “Hopefully, I’ll be on the farm in the very near future,” Mead said. “We want to work alongside Dad for as long as we can.”

Mead and Marshall grew up on their father’s farm, “so we’re very closely related to the industry,” Mead said. “When I move back home, I’m going to get more hands-on from an ownership perspective. I want to be involved from beginning to end. We’re looking forward to that and the lifestyle that brings.”

Mead said the Cotton Incorporated tour “was something I really wanted to do to find out where our dollars go and to understand what the program does for the industry as a whole, to learn what this organization is all about.