Burlison, Tennessee (Tipton County)
Brad Williams, age 42, grew up on a cotton farm and as a child had always said he would never farm. However, during his senior year in college, he learned the art of identifying and differentiating all of cotton fiber’s quality intricacies, also known as classing cotton. Brad then realized that being involved with cotton was what he wanted to enjoy as a career. He applied for and accepted a position at Staplcotn to work as a cotton specialist – servicing members’ farm accounts in a designated region. Brad worked for Staplcotn in that capacity from 1992 – 1995. In 1996, he married Kerry Kelley and was offered a position by her father, Richard, to spearhead his cotton warehouse operation so that Richard could grow his ginning business. Like Brad, Richard also came from a farming family that dates back to Richard’s grandfather.
In 1998, Michael Roane married Richard’s other daughter, Leslie, and expressed an interest in farming. At that time, Richard farmed 4,500 acres. Today, the three men, along with their three wives, operate a farm that includes 22,000 acres within a 5-county area, along with their gin and warehouse located approximately 30 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee, just east of the Mississippi River. Brad has a marketing and finance background, Michael has a degree in plant and soil science, and Richard has an engineering background. Each use their skills accordingly on the farm yet all work together in all aspects, operating equipment such as planters or cotton pickers, making critical planting decisions and more.
Their wives are also involved in the farm, gin and cotton warehouse. Kerry is an occupational therapist but only works in the medical field part time so that she can assist with the heavy workload. Leslie runs the office and takes care of payroll for around 40 employees. And Charlotte, Richard’s wife and mother of the girls, is affectionately known as their “super boss “and handles the bookkeeping. This tight-knit family lives within 200 yards of each other and in the fall during the cotton harvest and ginning season, they all have dinner together every night at the gin. Brad commented, “Our kids are ‘gin rats’ and are just growing up in this business. We make it a priority to show them all it takes to farm and how important agriculture is to the whole world.”
Brad, Richard and Michael are fortunate to have heavy clays in their land that hold a lot of moisture. On average, Western Tennessee receives around 50″ of rainfall annually. Most of their land is red clay, rolling hills that are cut into pieces by small tributaries to the Mississippi River creek bottoms. They practice dirt terracing and contour farming to conserve the moisture and to conserve and build the soils. “Be good to the land and it will be good to you,” remarked Richard. Their farming practices became that of “role model” for the area when they began contour farming. They had experienced a lot of erosion problems in the 70’s and brought the concept in to work on building their soils back. They also have increased organic matter in their ground.
Richard and Brad decided in the mid-90’s to become members of Staplcotn. Brad commented, “The biggest asset of being in Staplcotn’s coop is that you know you are going to get paid for your product and that the cooperative will take care of their customers. Staplcotn has worldwide reach and a name consistent with service and integrity. That’s important to me as a member because that keeps those customers coming back and keeps your cotton sold. Being a member of Staplcotn is just an extension of the farm. We always want to know that we will have a home for our cotton and Staplcotn can do that for us.” Richard also values being a member because of the time he saves not having to worry about marketing his crop, “as a farmer, you can spend too much time trying to market on your own. That’s why the members formed the company.”
[from Staplcotn Website]