From Cotton Grower Magazine – July 2015
For cotton breeder Charlie Cook, Highway 77 is practically a second home during the production season.
Though he lives in Victoria, TX – a short two hour drive southeast of San Antonio – he often checks on customers and production plots throughout the Rio Grande Valley during the summer months. He’s familiar with the highways and turnroads across south Texas.
This is noteworthy because, as the primary cotton breeder for Dyna-Gro and All-Tex Seed, he lives clear across the state from All-Tex’s historical home office in Levelland. For Cook and the seed company, it’s the perfect set-up.
“As far as my breeding work, they leave me alone and let me do my thing down here,” said Cook, with a laugh. “I live down here, and I’m isolated from the rest of the world, you might say. But if anybody needs anything at any time, they call me. If a salesman or an agronomist of ours needs anything, they know they can call me at any time and I’ll do everything I can. The cotton group is a pretty nice group – a nice family environment.”
Cook has lived here since 2006, when he first arrived at All-Tex Seed. Eight years later, the company was bought by Crop Protection Services, effectively merging its seed brand with that of Dyna-Gro. But in those early years, Cook’s proximity to Levelland – nearly nine hours away – helped All-Tex live up to its name.
Studying Under the Best
Cook got his start in agriculture as a teenager, working in the peach orchards in his hometown of Tyler, TX. He attended Abilene Christian University for his undergraduate degree before matriculating to Texas A&M University to study genetics.
It was there that he came to study under Dr. Luther Bird, who, at that time, was already a very well-known figure among cotton producers in the Southwest. As a pioneer in developing cotton varieties, Bird played a major role in shepherding the Texas cotton industry through a difficult time.
“Back in the 1970s, the Tamcot varieties that he developed pretty much saved the Coastal Bend of Texas,” Cook said. “That’s when the boll weevil was extremely severe and the cotton varieties were late, and most people essentially lost their crops. Then he came out with Tamcot SP 37, among others, that were early maturing and pretty much saved the cotton producers around there.”
At the time, dozens of mom and pop seed companies supplied seed to producers in the state. Almost all of them drew their flagship varieties from direct selections out of Dr. Bird’s breeding program.
“Just knowing what he had done when I met him and how hard he worked, I knew that was exactly the guy I wanted to work with,” Cook recalls. “And even though I hadn’t been around a lot of cotton before, I knew that cotton breeding was what I wanted to do with my life.”
Cook developed a strong bond with Bird, who retired while Cook was still studying at Texas A&M. Cook would go on to earn his master’s degree as well as a doctorate from the school.
From there, he went to work for USDA in Weslaco, TX. His initial job was as the lead scientist in a kenaf program, though he was allowed to work on cotton breeding on the side.
“Cotton was where my heart was, you could say,” Cook says. “I did my job so I could have my hobby.”
Though it was viewed as a “side project” at the time, his cotton work while with USDA was significant. It gave him a start in working on reniform nematode tolerance. Ultimately, in collaboration with Forrest Robinson at Texas A&M, he helped release several lines targeted for South Texas that featured nematode tolerance.
He stayed with USDA until 1998, when he left for a short stint at UAP. Eventually he landed at Syngenta, where he played a hand in developing VIP-technology, an insect trait featured today in WideStrike III and Bollgard III.
Cook stayed with Syngenta for several years, before Syngenta’s business dealings brought him into contact with All-Tex’s owners Buzz and Cody Poage.