“We do most of these tests in module plots, which allows us to take a certain acreage of land, weigh the cotton, gin it, and calculate final turnout. This gives us a better comparison of varieties than we would get in smaller plots or side-by-side tests.”

Another big change in the cotton business in recent years has been the development of on-board module pickers.

But while Wannamaker says, “We will probably always grow a lot of cotton,” he still wants the flexibility to change, if markets dictate it.

“The cost of the new pickers almost requires that you grow about 2,000 acres of cotton for it to pay, and I don’t want to be locked into growing 2,000 acres of cotton.”

The on-board module pickers would allow him to reduce his labor force, he says, but right now he is blessed with good labor. “I remember how hard it was when I first started farming, so I’m always looking to the younger generation to find people interested in farming. I have three young men working for me now, and they can do anything in our farming operation.

“With all the new technology we have available, farm operations can be much more precise. These young men grew up with computers and they’re comfortable with GPS-guided tractors and all the new technology. Having qualified people to put this equipment to good use is a blessing.”

He recalls that when he started growing peanuts in 2002, he suffered big harvest losses because he couldn’t see the rows to dig his crop. He invested in a RTK-guidance system and has subsequently bought a second system. Adapting GPS technology for use in cotton and grain production has made those operations run more smoothly, he says.

For the foreseeable future, Wannamaker says, cotton will likely be a big part of his farming operation.

“It appears much of the safety net cotton farmers have had in the past will be gone in the future — and that’s troubling,” he says. “Crop insurance is better than nothing, but it’s not all that farmers need to keep risks at a manageable level.”

In 2002, farmers in and around Calhoun County, S.C., suffered through a drought that nearly put him and others out of business. Since then, he has looked closely at crop insurance, and it has helped in some years.