by Larry Aylward, Cotton Grower Magazine; Used by permission
Cotton is king in the Lone Star State, and brothers Toby and Tommy Robertson are honored to be members of the king’s court for the state that produces the nation’s most cotton.
The Robertsons are fifth generation farmers who own and operate Triple-T Farms & Cattle Co. in Robstown, Texas, about 20 miles west of Corpus Christi.
“We’ve done this our whole lives and don’t know anything different,” Toby says.
Triple-T stands for Toby, Tommy and their father Tracy, who the brothers bought out in 2018 when Tracy retired.
“I asked my dad if he would be offended if we changed the name to Double-T and he said, ‘Why would you do that?’ And I said, ‘Because we only have two Ts now,’” Toby says with a laugh. “It seemed like it might offend him, so I just dropped it.”
Toby and Tommy began working on the farm before they turned 10. Both also attended college but decided to spend their careers as farmers, joining their father as full-time partners when Triple-T was created in 1997.
The brothers farm 11,000 acres, consisting of cotton, corn, sorghum, wheat, and occasionally sesame. “Cotton is our cash crop,” Toby says, noting that 5,600 acres will be devoted to cotton this year.
The Robertsons have used Americot’s NexGen® varieties since 2016. A reason they chose NexGen is because they want to support Lubbock, TX-based Americot, a privately owned and operated
entity, says Toby, noting that Americot President and CEO David Hicks is a farmer who understands the wants and needs of Texas cotton farmers.
“He understands our plight,” Toby says. “There’s more of a hometown The Robertson brothers feel with Americot.”
Tommy says he and Toby are impressed with Americot’s service. “If we have any issues, they are here to help us,” he adds.
The first NexGen variety the Robertsons planted in 2016 was NG 5007 B2XF, which had excellent yield potential but didn’t grade as well as they desired. The following year the Robertsons planted NG 5711 B3XF, which yielded and graded higher. Subsequently, they began planting more acres of NG 5711 B3XF.
A few years later, the Robertsons began planting NG 4936 B3XF. “We had outstanding yields with it, higher than what we have ever had before, and the quality was excellent,” Toby says of the medium maturing variety that features Bollgard® 3 XtendFlex® Technology.
The brothers’ overall experience with the varieties is why they’ve stuck with NexGen. They are also now planting NG 4190 B3XF, which has better seed vigor and more yield potential as well as outstanding quality, Toby says.
“We’ve been growing a lot of 1,200- to 1,500-pound cotton an acre with NexGen varieties,” Toby adds. Says Tommy, “The varieties produce very well.”
What separates one variety from another in terms of quality? “Strength and length, mainly,” Toby says. “That’s what the mills are looking for. We want to be above a 36 staple length. And anything that has a strength of 30 and over is a hot commodity that is in demand.”
Triple-T markets most of its cotton through CalCot, a producer-owned cooperative. “Most of CalCot’s market is in the export market, and the export market wants those 36 to 38 staple varieties,” Toby says.
In terms of acreage, Triple-T is not increasing or decreasing the number of cotton acres in 2023. “We’re dryland cotton, 100 percent. We just don’t have enough rainfall (about 30 inches a year) to grow cotton on cotton,” Toby says.
The Robertson brothers also rotate their cotton crop with corn and sorghum, which is good for the soil, Toby explains. “Healthwise, that allows our soil to rest,” he adds. “Cotton takes more nutrients out of the ground and doesn’t put nearly as much organic matter back in the soil.”
The weather in South Texas can be challenging to grow cotton, especially when it’s severely hot and dry. Thankfully, the subsoil moisture in the cotton fields offers favorable growing conditions.
“We don’t need a lot of rain; our soil retains a lot of water whenever it’s full,” Toby says. “But it can be trying on your nerves whenever you want get a crop up and you don’t have the moisture to do so.”
“We have high temperatures at night from mid-May through the summer, ranging from 75 degrees F to 80 degrees F. We need drought-tolerant and heat-tolerant varieties,” he adds.
Toby and Tommy both attended college before coming back to the farm back in the mid-1990s. Tommy attended Southwest Texas State University (now known as Texas State University) for a time, but knew his heart was elsewhere.
“I just decided it was best for me to come back and start farming,” Tommy says.
Toby graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in agriculture economics and had his sights set on doing something other than farming.
“I wanted to do my own thing, but I also had a fear of missing out by not being on the farm,” he says.
Toby interviewed with a major agricultural chemical company, which wanted him to relocate to North Carolina. When he told his father, Tracy offered him a piece of the farm, where Tommy was already working. Toby also then decided his heart was with the farm.
“To be honest, once you start farming, it’s really hard to get out of it whether you like it or not,” Toby says. “You’re kind of joined at the hip with the farm once you decide to do it.”
But there are no regrets. Toby says he and Tommy live productive lives.
“Farming is in our blood,” Toby says. “It has been a great lifestyle. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.”