Standing almost 6-4 and weighting 250 pounds, David Farley is an imposing figure. Shaking one of his huge, workingman hands will almost bring you to your knees.
Listening for the first time to his rapid-fire Australian cadence only accentuates an initial impression that this fellow seems a bit out of place as president of a 75-year-old California cotton marketing cooperative with a long lineage in the president's chair from College Station, Texas and Texas A&M to Bakersfield, Calif.
He does not fit.
That is the idea.
Farley was recommended by the cooperative's selection committee and unanimously anointed by Calcot's large board because they hope he can bring new ideas and new vigor to one of the nation's premier cotton marketing organization that has fallen on hard times of late. Low prices have pushed Western cotton acreage to its lowest level in decades, and Calcot's supply of cotton to low levels as well. The downturn was particularly hard financially on Calcot's 1,700 members who over the past two years have had to pay back $30 million in advance overpayments from the 2000 crop year.
The selection of the 45-year-old Australian to succeed Tom Smith was a shocker internally and externally in the U.S. Cotton Belt. Two Calcot vice presidents and the head of marketing for California's largest cotton farming operation were among the finalists. The odds were on one of those three getting the job. But, they were passed over for outsider from Down Under, one of Calcot's chief competitors in the world cotton market.
However, Farley is no stranger to California and the rest of the U.S. Cotton Belt. He oversaw the formation a partnership between Colly Farms, a fully integrated 75,000-acre farming, ginning and marketing organization, and California's Houchin Family, forming Colly Houchin Trading Co. with an annual volume of 1.2 million bales of cotton.
He started with Colly as a farm manager in 1983 and became managing director in 1988. He left the publicly traded Colly two years ago after a “hostile takeover.”
He hit the ground running at Calcot and has kept a torturous schedule meeting with growers, ginners, bankers, mills and anyone else. Skeptics remain, but overall his first three months has drawn a positive reaction.
“He is a breath of fresh air…a welcome change bringing new energy not only to Calcot, but the industry as well,” said one industry leader.
That is an understatement for a man with the build of a Daniel Boone, salesmanship of a carnival barker and the energy of the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character.
Farley's arresting stature is surpassed only by his boundless energy. He says needs only four maybe five hours a sleep a night. His e-mails directing the staff since he officially assumed the president of Oct. 1 are written at all times of the night. Ideas come from him with Gatling gun rapidity. He may keep up the pace forever, but some wonder if Calcot's staff is up to it.
“Enthusiasm finds opportunity and energy makes the most of the opportunities,” is a quote from author Henry Haskins that adorns his office wall.
Another of his often-repeated philosophies is: Everyone is going into the future. We can either make or arrive at the future. I am a firm believer in making the future.”
He definitely thinks outside the box. Just ask him about cotton's future in the West. While many are hoping cotton will make marginal rebounds in the future, Farley sees cotton dominating as it once it.
“There are a lot of people in the West who can grow more cotton and will be Calcot members…they just don't know it yet. When we perform as I expect, those cotton acres we have lost to alfalfa and corn silage will be back to cotton. When all the new almonds acres that have gone in stop producing, farmers will realize they should be farming cotton.”
Asked why his selection surprised many, he admits to be impatient with people who do not buy into his directives.
In building what he called a “premier, world class cotton operation” in Australia “there were a lot of people who could not move fast enough and they were left behind. Those who got in the road I went straight over them.”
Farm bill question
One of the red flag raised in Farley's selection was the sharp criticism from Australia of the U.S. federal farm bill and policies. Skeptics wondered where Farley would stand on that issue that has become critical to cotton Beltwide, including in the West. Farley quickly points out that Australian currency is worth only about 50 percent the U.S dollar.
“America needs a safe and predictable agriculture future. Its farm programs are important to that. America does not enjoy the subsidy of lower dollar values in the export market. Australians who criticize U.S. farm policy are demonstrating their naivety of the international marketplace,” he said.
He leaves no doubt who is in charge at Calcot. People get “fired up or they get fired,” is another of his colloquialisms. However, he does not perceive himself to be a one-man band. He has initiated what he calls “Team Calcot” to “energize” the 140-person Calcot staff to be as “enthusiastic, motivated, informed, efficient and proud” in delivering results for Calcot's members in a highly competitive world marketplace.
“We must have one common objective at Calcot: to maximize profit for all stakeholders. Calcot is an extension of the farms we represent, an investment of the farmers.
“We fully understand that farmers are getting squeezed right now — input costs are going up. Our objective must be to get more money per pound for our members' cotton,” he said.
Farley believes that could come by “raising” the quality bar on San Joaquin Valley cotton. One of his first meetings was with Shane Ball, the University of California agronomist who heads the San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board variety-testing program.
“We are not the only country with research and development programs. We have to make sure we are leading the way to improved fiber quality cottons to ensure farmer profitability.” He said ever-changing textile spinning technology demands improvements in fiber quality.
Farley's Australian cotton career took him from the turnrow to the textile mill boardroom. He can talk cotton listing to gin lint cleaners to warehousing, logistics to changes in spinning technology. That gains him acceptance with ginners and farmers, but his role at Calcot is to sell cotton at a profit for farmers. While the initial response to the big Australian has been positive, the first real test of Dave Farley will be next September when Calcot members hear the final settlement.
Farley is confident the news will be good.
“Calcot is 75-years-old and that proves the cooperative model works. I feel quite confident that we can harness the energy of the people at Calcot and the intelligence of the market to make the next 25 years a good 25 years,” he said.