Roll Farmer Honored For Cotton Production, Industry Leadership

Clyde Sharp celebrated his 70th birthday last September — but it wasn’t a traditional birthday with cake and candles, sitting around a table with his family on their farm in Roll.

Rather, he sat at a conference table in Jakarta, Indonesia, with a group of U.S. cotton leaders, discussing with Asian manufacturers the attributes of high quality American-grown fiber.

Sacrificing a milestone birthday celebration is just another example of Sharp’s exemplary dedication, sacrifice and leadership on behalf of the U.S. cotton industry.

For that service to cotton and agriculture as a whole — plus the fact he’s a top-notch cotton grower and steward of the land — Clyde Sharp has been named the Far West Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton award winner for 2014.

The High Cotton awards were initiated by Farm Press and the National Cotton Council as a way to demonstrate that cotton growers and their families are concerned about the environment and are the true stewards of their land, air and water.

“The High Cotton Awards continue to identify producers who are the best of the best when it comes to producing a high quality, profitable crop in an environmentally responsible manner,” says Greg Frey, Farm Press Publications’ publisher.

“I am very thankful for this recognition,” Sharps says, pointing out the award is really a recognition for his family.

Clyde and his brother David, third-generation Arizona farmers, own and operate Lyreedale Farms with their wives, Vicky and Melissa, respectively. Clyde and Vicky have three daughters — Kayla, Holly and Kelly.

Clyde, who has farmed for 50 years, was nominated for the High Cotton award by Arizona Cotton Growers Association Executive Director Rick Lavis.

“Clyde is not afraid of a challenge, and works hard to achieve the desired end result,” Lavis says. “He approaches a problem with zeal. His is a rare kind of leadership.”

Sharp’s family has grown Upland cotton for 25 years. In 2013, they farmed 2,500 acres of cotton (fiber and seed), alfalfa, and wheat, plus Sudangrass and onions for seed in Yuma County. Cotton is a rotation crop with winter vegetables.

They planted NexGen 1511B2RF in mid-April; the crop was harvested in early October and was ginned at Growers Mohawk Gin at Roll and marketed through the Calcot Limited cooperative. Sharp is vice-chairman of both organizations.

For generations, farming has been a deep passion for the Sharp family. Clyde and David’s parents — Lynn and Irene Sharp — operated a dairy in the greater Phoenix area and grew crops for the cows. After graduation from the University of Arizona, Clyde helped run the dairy, while David managed the crops.

With ever-increasing urban encroachment in the Phoenix area, the Sharps sold the dairy operation and moved to Roll in 1987, shifting totally to crop production. It didn’t take long for them to put down roots and make their mark at local, state, national and international levels.

Among the life lessons their parents instilled in the Sharp boys was the importance of community service and giving back to the agricultural industry.

For example, on the community level Clyde and David built a country-size barbecue grill. Over the years, they have cooked barbecue for various worthwhile causes, with proceeds supporting 4-H, FFA, Rotary and other organizations.

When the local gin manager stopped by seeking a candidate to represent the area on the Calcot board, it opened doors to numerous future leadership roles for Clyde. Today, he is a National Cotton Council executive committee member; chairman of the NCC’s cotton grower arm, the American Cotton Producers; a member of the NCC Boll Weevil and Pink Bollworm Action committees; ACGA board member; member of the local Natural Resources Conservation District Board; and an elder at the Mohawk Valley Community Church.

Previously-held positions include three years as ACGA president, several years as chairman of the Arizona Cotton Research and Promotion Council, chairman of Cotton Council International and a Cotton International board member.

In addition to service to the agricultural industry, the Sharp brothers embrace environmental stewardship practices on the farm. They were the first growers in the Wellton-Mohawk Valley to plant Bt cotton to reduce insecticide and herbicide needs. Farming in the arid low desert that gets only 2.5 inches of average annual rainfall, the Sharps also use 100 percent GPS guidance systems in their farm equipment which improves land leveling for more efficient irrigation while reducing fuel use and dust.

The Sharps also are experimenting with adding commercial bacteria to the soil, with the goal of using the microorganisms to improve bacterial balance.

“The theory is that we’ll use less fertilizer and less water,” Sharp says. “We haven’t used the bacteria long enough to determine if that is the case. But, it has improved stand longevity and the soil profile, which reduces the tractor horsepower needed to till the soil, in turn saving fuel.”

Their main cotton pests are lygus, whitefly, spider mite, and occasional stink bug outbreaks, which usually require one or two insecticidal sprays per season. Notably absent from the insect list is the destructive pink bollworm, once the top pest threat for Arizona cotton growers.

In 1998, an Arizona referendum to launch PBW eradication was defeated by growers. Sharp and other cotton leaders lobbied hard to pass a second referendum.

The guts of the program would include Bt cotton, sterile insect technology, pheromone rope and traps. Also critical was for Mexico to fully participate in the program, including the related costs.

In 2004, Arizona cotton growers passed the referendum by a 77-percent yes vote — more than the two-thirds required for passage. From 2007-2009, Sharp chaired the Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council and worked tirelessly to move the eradication program forward.

Accomplishing the goal was far from easy. Several growers attended eradication meetings and voiced opposition. But, says Sharp, “Those same growers have come to me over the last several years, congratulated me, and thanked me for pushing eradication.”

The last native pinkie was found in Arizona in May 2012. Today, California, Arizona, New Mexico, west Texas and northern Mexico are very close to official PBW eradication. Three to four years must pass from the last native pinkie find before official state eradication status can be declared.

“This makes me feel great,” Sharp says. “It’s a huge sense of accomplishment.’

Switching gears to federal farm policy, he has played a vital role in helping the National Cotton Council draft and garner support for a new cotton provision in the law. He has helped the industry navigate through important farm bill issues under an abbreviated time frame, says Craig Brown, NCC vice president of producer affairs.

“Clyde has demonstrated great leadership during this important process, and has been a good consensus builder at a very important time — he has done a great job,” Brown says.