The departure of two long-time Extension cotton and weed specialists caught many in the industry by surprise, but both Steve ‘Weedy’ Brown and Joel Faircloth say the move is a natural part of their need to have closer contact with growers.
Both Brown and Faircloth began their work with Dow in January, working on Phytogen brand cotton. Brown will be working in Georgia, Alabama and the Panhandle of Florida and Faircloth will be working in the Bootheel of Missouri, eastern Arkansas and Tennessee.
Geographically the move wasn't a stretch for either professional. Brown has spent the last 21 years in the Georgia Extension system, headquartered in Tifton. Though Faircloth has spent the past four years as Cotton and Peanut Specialist at Virginia Tech, he spent the early part of his career as a cotton specialist at LSU's Winnsboro Branch Research Center.
Philosophically, both say the stretch isn't so great either.
“I want everyone to know that I'm not leaving Virginia Tech because of any problems or dissatisfaction with my job there. Working with Virginia peanut and cotton growers has been a phenomenal personal and professional experience. In a sense, the enjoyment I get from working with growers is a primary reason for my interest in the job at Dow. I will get to spend more time in the field with farmers without the sometimes burdensome academic responsibilities that are an expected part of any job in university Extension,” Faircloth explains.
Brown says he was born to be an Extension specialist. “I loved the time I spent at the University of Georgia, and like Joel says, the best part of my job has been working with so many dedicated and innovative growers.” Brown also stresses that he isn't leaving the University of Georgia because of any problems or any dissatisfaction with his job, rather he sees the job with Dow as an opportunity to spend more time doing the things he likes best, working with farmers and crops, without the obligations associated with being a university professor and Extension specialist.
Brown says the old adage about one door closing and another opening is right on the money in his case. At the time he began the interview process with Dow, he was a candidate for an administrative position at the University of Georgia. “I am doubly blessed because I didn't get that job — it went to someone much better suited for it than me, plus the job with Dow came through. I feel very blessed at the way things worked out,” he adds.
“Though I loved my job at the University of Georgia, in some ways I felt like I had done it long enough — I was looking for a new professional challenge. I was attracted to the Dow job because they are relatively small in the cotton business, but they have great technology coming down the pike and they are ideally situated to grow their cotton business, and I feel like I can be a part of that growth program and in some small way help farmers better understand this new technology and better utilize it,” he adds.
Because of the financial situation of Land-Grant institutions across the country, Extension specialists have been forced by economic necessity to become applied researchers and to provide grant money to support both their Extension and research responsibilities. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is open to debate, but reality is that is the environment extension specialists face today.
“I did a number of research trials with Dow varieties and they are in our OVT trials, and I was impressed with how well these varieties performed. Six of our top eight varieties were Phytogen varieties. This was a factor for me in making the decision to go into industry. As Steve says, Dow has some top notch technology coming down the pike and the opportunity to work with these varieties and with growers was a big incentive for me,” Faircloth says.
In a lot of ways the job we will be doing with Dow isn't different than being a cotton specialist or a weed specialist. We will be working with our sales staff, who by comparison, would be comparable to the county and regional agents we worked with in our past jobs.
“Our job is to be sure they have all the information they need to help farmers make better management decisions as to which cotton variety under which growing conditions will be best-suited for them,” Faircloth explains.
“For example, Brown says, in 2008 we are going to see a fair amount of cotton going in as a double-crop with wheat. To do that will require a good early-maturing variety. Those kind of situations are going to become more common and knowing more precisely what a variety will do under very specific growing conditions will be critical.” he says.
In the long-run the cotton industry in the Southeast looks promising. The boom days of the 1990s may be gone, but slow and steady growth is clearly achievable as long as worldwide demand for cotton products remains high.
Though they are taking a slightly different road, both Brown and Faircloth are poised to help growers make that climb a little less stressful and a little more profitable.