B Lindsey was born to run, say those who recall his athletic career at Forrest City High School. In 1957, the starting backfield of Lindsey, Sonny Holmes, Dan Wilford and Clinton Gore was considered the best backfield in the state of Arkansas.
But Lindsey could play baseball even better, and after high school, Lindsey took his considerable skills to the St. Louis Cardinal baseball organization to play AA ball for Memphis and Texas. He was blessed with the genes of a professional athlete. His brother, Jimmy, starred in the National Football League, as a running back for the Minnesota Vikings.
It would prove difficult to break into the baseball big leagues, however. “I knew I had six or seven years to make it,” Lindsey said. “If you don't make it, then you need to find out what you're going to do the rest of your life. At the time I played there were only 16 major league teams. So it was very competitive.”
As it turned out, there was one skill that eluded Lindsey — hitting the major-league curveball. In 1963, Lindsey “didn't have a real good year playing,” and figured it was time to return home. His father was in poor health, farmers were starting to clear additional land for soybeans and prices were rosy. In 1965, Lindsey hung up his cleats to take up farming. What was baseball's loss was the cotton industry's gain.
Lindsey pursued excellence in farming like a fullback rumbling for the end zone, knocking cotton yields higher and pushing for quality at every turn. His commitment to profitable cotton production, high quality and conservation has earned him the 2008 High Cotton Award for the Delta states.
Lindsey farms 4,000 acres of cotton in Cross County, Ark., at Levesque, for landlords Johnny H. Johnston, Ed Holland and Jack Killough. He and his wife, Jenny, have two sons, Bubba and Jay Lindsey, who farm independently of their father, a daughter Lisa Morris, and a 12-year-old grandson, Cody. Lindsey's crop consultants are Clay Fletcher and Paul Wilson.
About 85 percent of the farm is irrigated by center pivots and furrow. Soil type runs from Loring and Callaway silt loam soils close to Crowley's Ridge to Arkabutla soils farther away. The trick to profitable cotton production for Lindsey is keeping those good soils where they belong — on the farm.
Lindsey's biggest concern is sheet erosion from water leaving Crowley's Ridge, a geologic structure rising several hundred feet above the landscape. “If you farm close to Crowley's Ridge, then you are going to have a continuous battle with soil erosion, not necessarily because the slope is so bad, but because you get so much water from the 3- and 4-inch rains that come in an hour or an hour-and-a-half.”
Lindsey and independent bulldozer operator Terry Scott are constantly looking for ways to keep topsoil intact and have put in dozens of drop pipes and drop inlets on the farm. On one field, they've built several V-shaped terraces around 21-inch drop pipes to hold water longer and facilitate flow into the drop pipes. Scott came up with the idea of packing rock and stone around the drop pipes to stop the soil around them from eroding.
They've also built berms to divert water into ditches to keep it from washing through the fields. Even though the berms replaced cotton acres, “we just figured we'd have too much erosion. It's not so bad in the summertime as it is in the winter and the spring.”
On one field where topsoil had been depleted prior to Lindsey farming the land, he is rebuilding the soil with composted gin trash. “We're finally starting to make progress on it now. It was beginning to be a big time yield loss.”
On fast-breaking land prone to erosion, Lindsey sows a cover crop of wheat, “after we pick, or we'll sow it and let the leaves fall on it post defoliation, and then it will come up after a rain.
“You have to take care of your soil,” Lindsey explained. “My philosophy goes all the way back to when my father farmed this land. He always used vetch and Australian winter peas to build the land back up.”
Irrigation water availability in this part of the country often depends whether you're east or west of Crowley's Ridge — Lindsey farms both sides. On the east side, water is available for pumping at about 20 feet. But on the west side, Lindsey is pumping at 105 feet. “This year, I can tell just by the pressure on the pivots, and even on furrow irrigation, that we were really pulling that cone of depression down. We were beginning to get a little cavitation at the end of the year, so we had to limit the amount of water pumped.”
Water issues have already forced many rice farms west of the ridge into crops with less water demand, such a sweet potatoes and cotton in some cases. Lindsey, who plants Deltapine, Stoneville and PhytoGen cotton varieties, says one solution to the dwindling water supplies is more drought-tolerant cotton lines.
Meanwhile, Lindsey waters cotton down every other middle to save water and minimize losses at the end of the row. “We shorten up our runs to flush the water through, so we don't lose as much. We may not wet it as much as some do, but we don't have a lot of runoff. And we're not pumping in the same middles for 24 hours. We change our setting twice a day.”
Lindsey minimum-tills much of his cotton, bedding up over the existing row after cutting stalks. “On some fields, we go full tillage, depending on the situation. It's not hard with 12-row equipment. You can get it done so fast.”
Lindsey has seen firsthand the benefits of preserving wildlife habitat, as a hunter, farmer and citizen. Noted Rick Wimberley, who nominated Lindsey for the High Cotton award, “B Lindsey loves to farm, loves the land and is a steward of the land with the goal of passing it on in much better shape than he found it.”
Lindsey led efforts against dredging the L'Anguille River even though water still occasionally backs out of the river and floods farmland. “I think the benefit of the waterfowl and wildlife far exceeds any benefit of trying to farm right up against a ditch. And we knew if the river was ever dredged, it would become nothing but a ditch. Me, my brother and my sisters opposed it very strongly and we continue to oppose it today.”
While hitting a major-league curve ball may shrink in comparison to the wild pitches Mother Nature can throw during the season, Lindsey swings for the fences on yield.
“They push fertility and irrigation,” said Clay Fletcher. “On irrigation, with these new fast-fruiting varieties you have to stay ahead of the crop. They do a good job of that. And they don't have a field that the pH isn't correct on. They're not going to spare any expense giving the crop what it needs.”
Making sure that Lindsey gets safely around the bases are farm hands Butch Strickland, Eddie Lopez, Ricky Sanders and farm manager John Busby, who also runs the night shift at Lindsey Brothers Gin.
Lindsey stresses boll weevil eradication, “is the most significant contributor to these good yields we've seen. I don't think anybody at any of the universities really understood the impact the boll weevil was having until all this technology started coming together. We got rid of the worm damage, we got rid of the weevil, we got rid of the morningglories and cockleburs and we developed some great varieties.”
To ensure adequate fertility for a 3-bale yield, Lindsey and his consultants send soil samples annually to either the soil testing lab at the University of Arkansas, Marianna, or A&L Laboratories in Memphis. He usually will apply phosphate, potash, lime, nitrogen, boron, and sulfur. The number of stresses the plant has during the season decides how close he gets to his objective, “but we hit it on some of our best fields every year. We'll always come back to an average of 1,150-1,250 pounds.”
This season, August, with its long run of hot days and dry weather, was a particularly stressful month on cotton plants. “I didn't think there was any way in the world we'd make the kind of yields we made this year. It just goes to show you nobody has totally figured out the cotton plant yet. I never would have thought it. We've made a heck of an irrigated cotton crop. It's comparable to 2004.”
Defoliation and harvest are critical components of cotton quality for Lindsey, especially when he's pushing the crop with irrigation and high fertility. “We want a good 5-day forecast. And when you're pushing for 3-bale cotton, it takes a two-shot defoliation. You have all the nutrients out there and the cotton is going to be 42-46 inches tall. So the first dose is very light, to get the cotton open so we can get our big opening rate down into the plant.”
Attention to quality cotton both on the farm and the gin has paid off for Lindsey. George Bloomquist, with Parkdale Mill, noted, “We have been buying cotton from the B Lindsey Farm and Gin for many years. Their cotton quality is exceptional and has been very beneficial to Parkdale in our efforts to produce quality yarn for the textile trade.”
All of Lindsey's cotton is marketed through the gin owned by Lindsey and his brother, Jimmy, with about 95 percent going to Cargill. The gin has grown considerably since it was purchased from the family in 1988, with production rising from 3,500 bales to 65,000 bales.
Recently, the Lindsey brothers also purchased a gin in Widener, Ark., which processed 32,000 bales in 2006.
With cotton prices ranging from 30 cents a pound to 80 cents a pound over the span of a few years, Lindsey believes profitability in cotton farming means having just enough acres to justify inputs, labor and machinery. “We have found that 2,000-acre units are good for us. We can farm that with three people and a farm manager.”
Lindsey believes the U.S. cotton industry will turn around — and high grain prices could be the key. But he's not expecting to hit a round tripper. “I don't think any farmer wants a dollar a pound for cotton. I think he wants a price where he can get a good return. I think it's the same way for all the crops. They want a decent return on their investment.”