By Mark H. Stowers
Since 1971, Jerry Locke has been getting his hands dirty on the family farm in Quitman and Panola Counties. He did spend a year in construction after high school before coming home to the turnrow. With his father, Locke farmed cotton, soybean, corn, but this season has filled his acreage with only cotton.
“We have had wheat and mix that in when the price is right. But we haven’t had any in the last three or four years because of the price,” Locke says. “We had a really wet spring, and couldn’t get any corn in, so we just decided to go with cotton this year.”
Locke farmed with his brother for a decade before his step-son, David Gibson, bought out the brother. The duo has been farming together for ten years this season. Locke enjoys the farm life especially the freedom he has in what he gets to do.
“You are your own boss and you are making your own decisions. There’s no one telling you what to do,” he says. “It’s all I’ve ever done, and all I know. It was pretty rough for several years, but after we installed irrigation and built our land up, we were able to breathe a little easier.”
Bilbo Farms consists of 6,700 acres and even though he’s all in on cotton this year, his favorite crop is corn.
“We really like corn, and it’s generally an easy crop. We usually get it in early and get it out early, but this year the price was not there and that combined with a wet spring made us realize a corn crop would not have been as profitable. Cotton price was up and we own fifty percent interest in a gin so it makes sense for us to farm cotton,” he says.
Our gin is the old Yocona Gin which is now the Tri-County Gin. Last year we ginned nearly 50,000 bales, and that’s by far the most that gin has ever produced. We’ve completely rebuilt it. Before, it wasn’t capable of handling that amount of cotton. This year it’s going to be even better as we’ve done even more work on it. Cotton is coming back in a big way in this area for many of our customers,” says Locke.
“We’ve have an employee that completely handles the gin and we take care of the farming end of things,” he says. “The gin receives mostly round bales, but we have a few farmers who still use the conventional modules. You can take one driver and one picker to do what would take five or six workers in the past. There was a lot of labor involved that’s now effectively handled by two people.”
When he’s not out on the turnrow working the cotton field, Locke can be found on his land looking for both fish and other hunted wildlife.
“My stepson and I love to hunt. We deer hunt during the winter and we normally don’t do as much fishing because we don’t have much time in the summer, but with the rain this spring we’ve been fishing around Enid and around home.”
“We are fortunate to have some pretty good places to hunt,” he says. “And I also have a ten-acre pond behind my house. I keep it stocked with bream and bass and have recently stocked it with crappie, but it will be two or three more years before we can harvest them.”
Potter says he has spent time on Grenada Lake chasing the monster crappie that flourish there and has caught a few, but nothing to really brag about.
As far as the forecast for the crop on Bilbo Farms, Locke notes that this year he got a pretty good start, and was able to plant all of his cotton within a week. He feels that due to the timely planting and adequate rain, his crops are in pretty good shape.
Last year his cotton yield averaged about 1,250 pounds per acre on the 4,000-acres he planted. This yield was down from the year before, but having more acreage helped in the grand scheme of things.
“From what I hear from our neighbors, our yield was probably better than most, but just wasn’t a great cotton year. We are hoping for a better result this year. We have the capability and the land to get up to that 1,50-pounds per acre range, and last year we had some cotton that did that in spots. The price is up, and we have hopes that cotton will be king on Bilbo Farms.”
For forty-seven years, Locke has put his hope and hard work into cotton and he has no plans to change that anytime soon.