Since it began in 2008, the Deltapine New Product Evaluator (NPE) program has been instrumental in producing dozens of exceptional Deltapine seed varieties. But the program, which will begin its 11th season in 2019, has also produced a secondary benefit for its farmer participants – a sense of community among the more than 200 cotton producers.
“In a very short period of time, it became more like a family or a club of some kind than it was just a testing program,” says Keylon Gholston, Deltapine cotton product manager, who has overseen the program since it began. “Growers developed relationships with other growers across the Belt. With North Carolina growers going out to see growers in Texas, or West Texas NPE growers staying with Mississippi NPE growers when they were traveling – you know, it really has become a very close-knit group.”
The purpose of the NPE program has been to test pre-commercial cotton varieties on real working farms to determine which seed varieties Deltapine would make available commercially the following season. Participating NPE growers are given enough seed to plant large-scale plots, then allowed to manage them however they would like from planting through to harvest. Throughout the season, farmers participate in conference calls with fellow NPE growers to compare notes and discuss management decisions. Those phone calls and other in-person meetings have laid the foundation for lasting friendships.
“One of the things that I love about it is how they share information with each other,” says Gholston. “They communicate with each other and communicate back to us – things that are valuable to each NPE grower, valuable to the group and valuable to us as a company.”
After a decade of NPE, not all of the farmers’ interactions are business related. In advance of the 2018 NPE summit, held in Phoenix in December, Alabama producer Nick McMichen decided to travel to Arizona a day early to visit his friend Jerry Rovey, a cotton producer based in Buckeye, AZ.
“Over the 10-year period that I’ve been a part of NPE, I’ve forged a lot of new friendships across the country,” says McMichen. “I developed a close friendship with Jerry through NPE and also through the National Cotton Council Emerging Leaders Program, so with NPE Summit in Phoenix it was a great opportunity to go visit with him.”
McMichen was able to meet with the Rovey family and tour their farm. The differences between Alabama cotton farming and Arizona farming “couldn’t be more stark,” he says. But the chance to visit with the Roveys and learn from Jerry’s experience was “a highlight of our year.”
The NPE program deliberately enlists growers from every corner of the Cotton Belt, and, as such, McMichen has made friends from around the country – including Texas producer Daryl Schniers, who accompanied him on his trip to the Rovey farm in Arizona.
“The hidden gift that people outside of NPE don’t see is the network and the family and friends that we’ve made with one another,” McMichen says. “I’ve made lifelong friends, and the friendships I’ve made are invaluable. What I get out of it agronomically is invaluable also, being able to be on the inside track on these varieties. But it’s a family, the NPE family.”
From Cotton Grower Magazine – February 2019