Located just 87 miles southwest of Lubbock on the New Mexico border, Plains, TX, probably looks a lot like the rest of the small towns in the Cotton Belt. It has all the hallmarks of a farm community.
Row crops dominate the landscape. Miles of dusty roads connect farmhouses with their nearest neighbors. And, like in most farm towns, youngsters learn to drive on tractors and old farm trucks at an early age.
Such was the case for Ron Craft, who will proudly tell you that Plains is where he “was born and raised. And I’m still there.” Only, as a youth, Ron wasn’t just driving the tractor. He was renting the land, too.
“I was renting my first piece of ground when I was 9 years old,” he says, matter-of-factly. “Of course I had the guidance of my dad, who walked me through the process with that sort of thing. I can remember playing little league baseball, and still having to go get on the tractor after practice and finish up some stuff.”
It was an early lesson in the rigors of farm life.
“That’s how I got started in this thing. I always tell people I just don’t know any better. It’s all I’ve ever done. I just kind of evolved into it and grew into it,” says Craft, now 58.
While his path to farming may have started earlier than most, perhaps it was for the best. It’s just the kind of background you’d want for a man who is poised to lead the National Cotton Council as Chairman in 2018 – a crucial year that will see Congress create a new Farm Bill.
And Craft has much more than simply farming in his background. He’s got plenty of experience in other sectors of the cotton industry, as well.
“Growing up, my dad had a cotton gin and my grandad had a different cotton gin,” he says. “I’m a fifth-generation cotton ginner. I grew up in the cotton ginning business, and ginning is my primary focus right now. Even though I own farm land, I mostly rent the land out to tenants. Cotton ginning and warehousing is what I’m focused on right now.”
A Second Career Path
Even though Craft got first-hand experience on the farm throughout his childhood and teenage years, he took a surprising career turn after high school.
“I never left the farming part, but after graduation I started going to a law enforcement academy,” he says. The classes he would take as part of that program were at night, allowing Craft to work on the farm and in the gin during the day.
“I became a peace officer,” he says. “I still hold my Texas Peace Officer certification and licensing, and I work for the Yoakum County Sheriff’s Department as well, as a sergeant. But that has nothing to do with cotton, now!” he says, with a laugh.
While it is a totally separate career field, law enforcement does provide some perspective for Craft. He’s done it for 35 years and counting.
“I thought if something ever happened in agriculture, where I just couldn’t make a living, it would always give me something to fall back on,” he says.
Somehow, between farming, ginning and law enforcement, Craft found the time to serve the cotton industry through association work. He’s served in organizations such as the Texas Cotton Ginners Association, the Texas Independent Ginners Association, Plains Ginners Association and Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., to name a few.
Like so many of the folks who rise to leadership positions in the National Cotton Council, Craft got a taste for world travel early on – he joined a Cotton Council International industry diplomacy trip to China in 2006.
“It was a great group of guys that I got to travel with on one of these industry mission trips,” he recalls. “From there, I got more involved with groups like Cotton Incorporated.”
The association work snowballed into a series of increasingly more prominent positions. In 2016, he served as president of the National Cotton Ginners, and followed that by serving as chairman of the National Cotton Ginners, simultaneously acting as vice chairman of the National Cotton Council. All of these experiences did well to prepare him for what will likely be his most challenging work yet, as he steps in as NCC Chairman in 2018.
“It’s not something that I take lightly,” says Craft. “Especially with the 2018 Farm Bill approaching, I feel very honored and humbled and blessed to be able to do some good for our industry.”
Like all those who have spent time in the National Cotton Council, Craft sees the ability to unify the industry as the biggest value of the association.
“By having the Council bring unity to all seven segments, it’s important so that when we do have issues that we’re faced with, we’re not fighting one another,” he says. “The Council allows these different groups to come together and present our unified ideas and needs to whomever we’re having to go to.”
Of course, the biggest opportunity of the coming year will be the creation of the Farm Bill and making sure cotton is well-represented. When asked what his biggest task will be as NCC Chairman, Craft is quick to answer.
“It’s a no-brainer. Of course our farm bill, and all the things that need to be done to accomplish that. I think, from the producer side of things, we’ve got to provide our industry with the security that we need. The farm bill has a direct impact on the industry’s infrastructure, and also includes a number of provisions of importance to all segments.”
There will be challenges, as Congress searches for ways to tighten the budget. But Craft is hopeful.
“With budget cuts, everyone has their hand out,” he says. “I’m cautious, but I’m also optimistic about what we can take from the table, and what we can get accomplished.”
From Cotton Grower Magazine – March 2018