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Sledge Taylor Gives a Voice to U.S. Cotton

From Cotton Grower Magazine – January 2016

Sledge Taylor Pickers Web

In a lot of ways, Sledge Taylor is a typical Mississippi cotton producer. He has grown up on the farm, and possesses an understated wisdom regarding this business of cotton – and carving out a life around it. In many ways he’s a stoic figure, like most all his cotton farming neighbors in this corner of the Cotton Belt.

But then again, in many ways he’s quite unique. See him roll out of his office on historic Main Street in Como, MS – he shares walls with quaint restaurants and country lawyers – and hit the trail on his weathered off-road bicycle. He pedals past the Main Street shops, out onto the country highways and eventually onto the turn-rows of his farm, passing his own farm shop and escaping out into the endless fields of row crops.

“I don’t bike as much as I should,” he says. “I’m just trying to keep in some kind of shape.”

Taylor keeps up with his heart rate and distance travelled on his Apple watch. It’s hard to imagine the typical Mississippi cotton farmer successfully operating a heart monitor on a wrist-mounted “smart device”, but here is Sledge Taylor, Mississippi farm born and raised. His willingness to try new things has served him well over the decades in the cotton business.

In addition to growing cotton (and an assortment of other crops), Taylor has made a career in ginning. On top of the hard work that farming and ginning demand, he has also campaigned on behalf of agriculture through a lifetime of association work that spans over three decades. Because of his success in farming and ginning, and because of a lifetime of dedication to improving the American cotton industry, Sledge Taylor was selected as the 2015 recipient of the Cotton Grower Cotton Achievement Award.

Family Roots

Taylor began his farming career in May of 1974, shortly after graduating from Mississippi State University. He returned to help his father on a bustling, diverse operation – one that through the years has produced corn, soybeans, wheat, timber, cattle and, recently, peanuts. But through it all, cotton has been a mainstay.

“I’ve done it my whole life,” Taylor says. “I’ve worked on the farm since I was about 14, and I’ve been doing it full time for 42 years now. I’ve had cotton every year – never missed a year. To my knowledge, my dad never missed a year, and I don’t think his father ever missed a year. The family has had a cotton gin pretty much during that whole time. The family has been in the cotton business for well over 100 years.”

Taylor planted roughly 1,800 acres in cotton in 2015. Just under half of his total acreage is irrigated. “Cotton is a good crop for us,” he says. “We’ve got soils that are well suited for cotton, and it just spreads our risk both from a yield standpoint and from a price standpoint.”

But despite having over a century of family experience to draw from, circumstances have dictated that Taylor experiment with new practices during his career on the farm. Most recently, herbicide resistant weeds have spurred some proactive practices.

2015 was the first year glyphosate resistant pigweed appeared on Taylor’s farm, thanks to a vigilant preventative program that utilized residual herbicides in years past. He took the resistant weeds on the chin, having to bring in chopping crews often over the course of the last year.

“But we’re rotating other crops, and we’ll hopefully have some of the new herbicide chemistries ready for 2016,” he says. “It’s a problem, but we’ve been able to deal with it so far.”

Taylor is excited about the prospect of adapting new herbicide technologies in the coming seasons – both Dow’s Enlist Weed Control System and Monsanto’s Bollgard II XtendFlex technology are poised to break into the cotton market soon. This willingness to adapt new agronomic tools is not limited to seed technology, however.

Precision practices have found a foothold on Taylor’s north Mississippi operation, as well. With his son David’s help, Taylor has been able to incorporate soil sampling, GPS mapping and variable rate fertilizer and lime applications on the family farm.

“David has been a blessing to help with the new technology and flow of information,” Taylor says. “I understand the new technology, and it’s one of those things where you’re having to learn new things almost weekly. So it’s good to have my son around to guide us on some of those things.”

For his part, Sledge Taylor can remember being a new arrival on the farm with revolutionary ideas about a hot button topic of the mid-70s.

“My big push back then was on irrigation,” Taylor says, recalling the conversations he’d have with his own father. “Drainage was the issue back then, and I wanted to learn as much as I could about it. I see my son having that same attitude towards precision agriculture now.”

A Lifetime of Advocacy

Taylor began to dip his toe into association involvement early in his career. He began his involvement with the Southern Cotton Ginners Association in the mid-1990s, after a friend and fellow ginner, David Slocum, urged him to join.

“I protested that I didn’t have enough time, but he insisted. I told him I’d do it if it meant that much to him. So I got involved on that one committee, and the next I know I was involved in quite a little bit more than just that,” Taylor recalls, laughing.

That first committee snowballed into a lifetime of work with organizations like the Southern Cotton Ginners Association, and, ultimately, the National Cotton Council. Any biography of Taylor would have to include a lengthy list of the positions he’s held. The National Cotton Council provided a sample in their nomination of Taylor for the Cotton Achievement Award.

“Sledge served as the Council’s vice chairman in 2014, as its secretary/treasurer from 2011-2013 and on the Council’s Board of Directors from 2007-2009,” the nomination began. “He served as the chairman of the Cotton Foundation in 2012-2013 after serving as its president in 2011-2012. He was the president of National Cotton Ginners Association in 2009.  Sledge currently serves as a member of USDA’s Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade.

“Sledge also has been active in regional, state and local organizations. He served as the president of Southern Cotton Ginners Association in 2002-2003 and was vice president of the Delta Council in 2001-2002. Sledge served as president of the Mississippi Cattle Industry Board in 1992 and was the president of the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association in 1991. He currently serves as a commissioner for Panola County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Panola-Tate Drainage District and is a board member for Delta Wildlife. He also is the chairman of the Panola County Land Planning Commission.”

The nomination went on to note that Taylor is also the sitting Chairman of the National Cotton Council. He’s vocal about the value of those organizations.

“Number one there’s people who don’t understand agriculture. Number two, there are people who put negative information out there to, for various reasons, try to make agriculture look bad.

“I’m an advocate for agriculture and all the great things it does – things like conserving wildlife and conserving the soil – in addition to providing food and fabric for the world. These associations give us a voice to do that.”

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