Cotton’s Humble Advocate
Starting in Earnest
Dodson’s parents started farming in 1937 on the south side of Corpus Christi, raising four children on the cotton and grain sorghum operation. Jimmy was the youngest of the kids, and enjoyed the challenging work he found on the family farm as a teenager.
After high school, he left to attend college at Texas A&M University, studying Agricultural Economics. It was there where he married his sweetheart Barbara – a somewhat unusual step for an underclassman to take. Dodson says the marriage was the best thing to happen to his studies.
“Being married was a good thing for me. I worked really hard at school and I graduated summa cum laude there in 1974,” Dodson says with a smile.
Like most everyone Dodson was a little unsure about what to do upon graduation. A neighbor of his father had retired from farming back in Corpus Christi, allowing Dodson’s father to lease the added land and purchase the equipment. There was only one problem.
“My dad told me he was going to have to turn it down because it was too much for him to do alone,” Dodson says. “So I said ‘Wait dad, have you thought about a partner?’ and he said ‘Well, who would be my partner?’” Dodson recalls with a smile.
“So I said ‘What about me, Dad?’ and he asked if I was sure if I wanted to do that, and I assured him I was.”
At this point Dodson’s father produced a partnership agreement, already drafted, and revealed that he had already scheduled an appointment with the family’s banker the following Monday morning. He had anticipated that Jimmy would jump at the opportunity.
“He was afraid to push it, because he knew I really needed to love it if I was going to do it,” Dodson says. “He was hoping I’d say yes, but he wasn’t going to show any emotion. He wanted it to be my decision.”
Dodson began farming with his father at an opportune time. In the mid-70s, he says, commodity prices were very strong. In a few short years, Dodson had expanded the business and bought his father’s interest in the partnership. What started as a 1,400 acre operation has blossomed to more than 12,000 acres present day. In 2014, the farm featured 7,100 acres of cotton, while the rest of the acreage was split between corn and grain sorghum. Thankfully Dodson has help from his family to handle the sprawling operation.
Dodson’s two daughters, Lori McDonald and Licia Massa, are stockholders in the family corporation, while a cousin, Jon Gwynn is a partner. Both Jon Gwynn and Jimmy’s wives, Michelle and Barbara, respectively, serve as partners as well.
It wasn’t long after Dodson got settled in on the farm near Corpus Christi that local associations recognized his potential as a leader.
The local Farm Credit Association ran into some troubles in 1982, when Dodson was 28, and approached the young farmer about serving on the board of directors. Although he was initially wary of diving into association work – after all, he had a growing farm operation to manage – Dodson’s father encouraged him to get involved.
“He said ‘Son, if it wasn’t for that organization, I would’ve never got started farming, and you would’ve never gotten your start. By all means, do what you can to save that Association.’”
Dodson insists he couldn’t have done it alone – “We had a lot of good people that came together to do that” – but today the association is thriving. He served for 20 years on the Board of Directors, and is now Chairman of the Board of the Farm Credit Bank of Texas, a $22 billion organization.
That initial step into industry leadership led to a series of service positions for Dodson. He’s served as the Chair of the Cotton Foundation and was instrumental in Farm Bill negotiations during his time as Chairman of the National Cotton Council – a period he says he’s especially proud of.
At 61, he’s still as involved as ever – as evidenced by his promotion of the Cotton LEADS program at the Sourcing USA Summit in Phoenix.
“I still enjoy learning,” Dodson says. “There’s a lot of things to learn at every one of these meetings we go to. It’s about personal growth and keeping yourself sharp. And it’s all worth it because you get to see that people can make a difference – not just yourself but lots of other great people.”
He is also quick to heap praise on the network of contacts he has made during his distinguished career – a network that has been especially supportive during difficult times recently. Sadly, Dodson’s son Bryan passed away in March. He had been a loving son, husband, brother and uncle, as well as an instrumental partner on the farming operation. Dodson says it has been a difficult time, but it has been made easier by his friends in the industry.
“It’s kind of like a big family for me, with Farm Credit and the National Cotton Council,” Dodson says. “We went through a tragedy when my son died this year, and I cannot express how great it is to have people who will surround you and support you in a situation like that. People just came out of the woodwork from both of those organizations to support us. Cotton industry people drove for hundreds of miles to attend that service.
“It’s like that with ag people – farm people – who have a common bond in agriculture and are just salt of the earth people,” Dodson says.
It’s fitting, then, that Dodson would go to bat for American farmers by advocating for the Cotton LEADS program to a room full of international industry professionals. It makes perfect sense that he would do so in a pair of cowboy boots.
“My daddy used to say to never be ashamed of your work clothes,” Dodson says. “Be proud of who you are and what you do, and do it the best you can.”