From Cotton Grower Magazine – March 2017
Ronnie Lee’s business card is a dead giveaway that he rarely stays still for very long. There’s not one – but four – businesses listed. And it doesn’t even include two other companies that he owns in southwest Georgia.
Now, he has a new title to add to his impressive farming and business backgrounds – 2017 chairman of the National Cotton Council, a position he assumed during the NCC’s 79th Annual Meeting in Dallas in February. He describes it as one of the biggest honors in the cotton industry, and it’s a challenge that he looks forward to.
Lee, from Bronwood, GA, grew up in his father’s grain business. He served on the Georgia Feed and Grain Dealers Association, then joined his father-in-law in the peanut business and became involved with the National Peanut Buying Points Association and the American Peanut Shellers Association.
His peanut partnership, McCleskey Mills, had a history in the cotton business, and concerns over the future of the peanut program led them back into cotton in 1995. They added two partners and built a new gin, and Lee was soon approached about getting more involved in the cotton industry. Old habits kicked back in, and soon he was deeply involved with Southern Cotton Growers, Cotton Incorporated and the NCC.
“I never in my wildest dreams cared about being in a leadership position,” said Lee. “I just wanted to serve. I remember Bob McLendon, a past NCC chairman, telling me that there might be better people for the job, but that they wouldn’t go to meetings. ‘You’ll go,’ he told me.”
When you look at the list of businesses Lee is involved in, you may wonder how and when he finds time to get away. He’s the managing partner of Lee Farms – a cotton, corn, peanuts, small grains, hay, pecans, and cattle operation in Terrell, Lee, and Sumter counties – and owns and operates McCleskey Cotton Company, a ginning and warehousing operation in Bronwood and Albany. His gin also is one of the owners of Chickasha of Georgia.
Then, there’s also RCL Flying Service; LGT LLC; McCleskey Saw and Machine Co., LLC; and Adela Logistics – all of which support local growers and their products.
“I have three sons – Ron, Chandler and Neil – who are involved in the businesses,” stated Lee. “And I’ve been blessed with good employees who are dedicated to what we do. They allow me to go and to serve.”
Lee admits to feeling a bit overwhelmed with his new assignment, but is confident that the experience he’s had within the NCC structures since 2003 have helped prepare him for the task at hand.
“The Lord plans things for us, and we don’t know why. For me to be from Georgia and in this position, and with a new Secretary of Agriculture and the National Farm Bureau president also from Georgia, then maybe I have as good a shot at reasoning with them as anybody,” chuckled Lee.
He’s certainly not a neophyte when it comes to working the halls of Congress in Washington, DC. He made two trips annually to Washington as part of Southern Cotton Growers’ Government Task Force. He has also testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee for NCC.
“I look forward to it,” he said. “I’m thinking that the stars may be lining up to get something done for this industry. A friend once told me ‘Yesterday was history, today is a blessing, and tomorrow is a mystery.’ If we can have enough of the right blessings, maybe the mystery of another cotton program will become history this year.”