Meet Arizona Agriculture’s Cotton Farmers
Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau and Outreach Director
Well, this article will only introduce you to a handful of our cotton farmers, but you’ll meet a good mix of our Arizona cotton farmers if you select any of the families listed below. Arizona's cotton acres continue to dwindle but the history of cotton in Arizona will stand. Read any of these farm family stories and you'll gain a real sense of the families behind this renewable fiber.
Cotton harvest time in Arizona is a special time.
The 2016 cotton harvest season is about to wrap up so celebrating our Arizona cotton farmers seems like the right thing to do. Most any of our Arizona cotton farming families will tell you they know just about every other cotton farming family because our numbers are small and less and less cotton is grown in this state. And, it’s not easy growing cotton in the desert, but Arizona actually creates ideal growing conditions, especially our climate.
We do have some pretty cool facts about cotton. They follow.
- Cotton seeds are tough enough to survive travel across oceans on the wind. This could explain how botanists are not sure where the first cotton plants came from, and probably why similar varieties grow sometimes thousands of miles apart. But it does explain why the Hohokam Indian tribe was growing it thousands of years ago here in the southwest. We can credit our Native American buddies with being Arizona’s first cotton farmers!
- Even though cotton is over 5,000 years old, the people who grew and used it never came in contact with each other. Some of them even lived on different sides of an ocean, but astonishingly enough, they still managed to develop similar tools to clean, prepare, spin, and weave it.
- Despite its well-earned reputation of casual comfort, the actual word "cotton" is an English version of the Arabic "qutun" or "kutun," a generic term meaning fancy fabric. One of cotton's original popular names was "vegetable wool."
- The American South owes its success in the peanut-growing industry to cotton---sort of. The boll weevil created an economic crisis all over the American South by laying its eggs in the cotton bolls, destroying much of the crops in the process. Enterprise, Alabama cotton farmers helplessly watched this until someone suggested they try growing peanuts instead, which is now one of their most successful crops! In the meantime, a boll weevil eradication program has nearly wiped out the little pest.
- Cotton was originally not only grown in white, but in assorted other colors including brown, rust and light purple. When mechanical processing methods (think the Industrial Age) were introduced it was easier to maintain color consistency by using only white-fibered plants.
- Arizona cotton, along with California cotton, is some of the whitest, highest-quality cotton around. The main reason is that Arizona and California irrigate the cotton. With so little rainfall in the southwest, the cotton fiber is not at risk for compromised quality due to wind and rain.
- One of the finest extra-long staple (ELS) cottons was developed and grown right here in Arizona. The USDA in Sacaton, Arizona, had an ELS breeding program that helped develop the ELS cotton.
So, let’s meet some of the Arizona farm families that grow this amazing fiber.
- The Sossaman Family (Traditional row crops and ancient grains)
- Max Koepnick (Cotton and small grains)
- Stambaugh Family (Cotton and Cattle)
- Shedd Family (cotton, wheat and alfalfa)
- Milton Smith Family (Cotton, Wheat and alfalfa)
- Paul Prechel (cotton and alfalfa)
- The Alder Brothers (Cotton, cattle and alfalfa)
- Wilbur Lunt (Cotton, small grains & assorted crops)
- Pacheco Family (Cotton, small grains, alfalfa)
- Rogers Family (Cotton, small grains, alfalfa)
- Bales Family (Cotton, Wheat & alfalfa)
- Oliver Anderson Family (Cotton, dried flowers)
- Mellon Family (Vegetable crops, cotton)
- Vernon Schulz Family (cotton and various crops)
- Neely and Morrison Families (cotton, wheat and alfalfa)
- David Sharp Family (cotton and produce)
- Boelts Family (Produce, wheat & cotton)
- Clyde Sharp Family (Cotton and produce)
- Alcaida Family (Cattle, Cotton)
- Killian Family (Crops, citrus and cattle)
- Claridge Family (Cotton and alfalfa)
- Palmer Family (Cotton, wheat and alfalfa)
- Hatley family (Cotton, wheat and alfalfa)
- Caywood Family (cotton, wheat and alfalfa)
- Murphree Family (Cotton, Wheat and alfalfa)
- Morrison Family (crops, livestock)
- Saylor Family (cotton, alfalfa, small grains)
Most of these farm families in Arizona go back several generations. They’ve been a witness to and implemented technology improvements to make their farming practices better, safer, healthier, and more conservation-focused. Their stories inspire.