2017 Cotton Grower Cotton Achievement Award winner Shawn Holladay with his wife, Julie (left) and their daughter, Katy (right).
It’s sometime around midnight near Lamesa, TX, and Shawn Holladay pilots his cotton stripper through one of his farm’s fields, working to close the gap on a harvest that’s already running late. Holladay and his farm crew have been going around the clock to get this year’s crop in, and he gave the others a night off to rest. Then, he kept right on running.
Holladay is quick to define himself as just a cotton farmer, and that’s certainly true. But he has also become quite an industry expert on farm policy, especially when it comes to cotton and how it could impact his farm, those of his neighbors, and every acre of cotton across the country.
Once again, when there’s something to be done, Holladay is there running.
“I figured out a long time ago that farm policy was going to be one of the most important things that could impact our farm from a federal standpoint,” said Holladay. “I started focusing on that about 10 years ago, and that’s what I do. I’m willing to go to bat for cotton in general. Cotton is what my family does, and I plan on defending it.”
His willingness to get actively involved with cotton organizations on a local, regional and national level – all while closely managing a 10,000-acre farming operation in Dawson and Martin counties – has earned Holladay the respect of his peers in the industry and the 2017 Cotton Grower Cotton Achievement Award.
Farm and Industry Leader
“Shawn’s leadership, not only with Plains Cotton Growers but also with the National Cotton Council and his local organizations, has positively impacted growers across the Cotton Belt, and there is no one who is more diligent and effective in ensuring that producers’ needs are heard,” said Steve Verett, executive vice president of Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., which Holladay serves as chairman. “But as dedicated as he is to serving this industry, he is even more so to his farm and his family, and that is evident in his operation year in and year out.”
Holladay is a fourth generation farmer. It’s a true family operation, with Shawn’s wife, Julie, and daughter, Katy, both actively involved. Five long-time, full-time employees are also on hand, and they’re considered part of the family, too.
Through his hands-on management philosophy, Holladay has fine-tuned the cotton and peanut operation, using history-based knowledge gleaned from his father and grandfather combined with new production technologies. Roughly 90-95% of their total acres are devoted to cotton, with the rest in peanuts. About 20% of their operation is irrigated.
His farming success is balanced with his involvement in industry organizations and issues. In addition to his role with Plains Cotton Growers, Holladay also serves on the board of the National Cotton Council and chairs the American Cotton Producers Farm Policy Task Force. He is also a past president of Lamesa Cotton Growers, and is chairman of and partner in United Gin Corporation of Lamesa.
Holladay credits Kent Nix – former chairman of The Cotton Board and a long-time family friend – with getting him started with his industry activities.
“When I was a younger man, I was at a Boll Weevil Eradication meeting and made a couple of comments. Kent turned around and looked at me and said ‘We need to get you involved.’ That’s where my demise started,” he quipped.
Holladay has high regard for the cotton industry’s organizations, noting that they are “some of the most important things we can support.” His participation has covered multiple topics, as well as geographies like South America and China. But farm policy has his full attention.
“I never thought I’d be a political being,” he said. “If I backed up 20 years and looked forward, I can’t imagine that I would be doing some of the things I’m now doing. Quite frankly, I’d rather be farming, and it’s often difficult to do some of these other things. But the only way to be effective in this policy situation is to be completely engaged.”
Building Strong Working Relationships
“Shawn has been an active leader in the Council for more than a decade,” said Ronnie Lee, NCC chairman. “He has helped the organization in various operational matters and more recently taken on even greater leadership roles in both the Council and the American Cotton Producers, providing valuable insight in areas ranging from farm policy development to crop insurance improvement.”
Through his PCG and NCC contacts, Holladay has developed a close working relationship with the ag committee staffs in Washington, DC. And having Mike Conaway, chairman of the House Ag Committee, as his congressman doesn’t hurt, either. Those connections have also led him to testify on behalf of cotton before ag committee hearings.
“It’s pretty intimidating to walk into a hearing room in Washington,” he recalled. “I understood what I wanted to say, and I practiced enough to be decent saying it. There was nothing in there that wasn’t relevant, and it turned out to be a very good experience.”
But make no mistake. Everything Holladay does on behalf of the industry is based on what’s good for cotton at the farm level.
“Cotton not being part of Title 1 has been a huge issue and has been devastating for some growers,” he noted. “We need some really good things to happen. The Ginning Cost Share program is important, because cotton is a couple of years away from being participants in the upcoming farm bill, if we’re going to be participants at all. We’re working diligently to make that happen.”
Farm and Family First
It’s always on Holladay’s mind while he’s on the farm. His irrigated cotton has averaged more than 3 bales an acre this year, and his dryland cotton was successful as well. But in both farming and policy work, he knows that long-term management is important. “The name of the game is to be ready when the luck comes,” he said. “It takes a lot of being prepared.”
Involvement and preparation are apparently family traits. Holladay’s wife Julie handles the books for the farm and serves on The Cotton Board (she also drives a tractor when needed). Their daughter Katy is a student at Texas Tech majoring in Mathematics, with a minor in Geographic Information Science and Technology. She helps out when the family is under the gun during planting and harvesting and has begun introducing GIS to the farming operation.
Both are a source of pride for Holladay.
“At the end of the day, I’m just a cotton farmer,” said Holladay. “I’m on a tractor and stripper doing everything that everyone else does. But I’m very serious about making sure that cotton growers get a fair shake within the farm bill and farm policy. I’m trying like heck to make some better things happen.”
From Cotton Grower Magazine – January 2018