Whether he is walking the halls of Capitol Hill advocating for the southern plains cotton industry or driving a tractor through the red dirt of Crosby County, Texas, Steve Verett has left his footprint on the agriculture industry.
Originally from Crosby County, Texas, Steve Verett, chief executive officer of Plains Cotton Growers Inc., has spent his entire life in agriculture.
“It’s the greatest job in the world for a guy like me that I get to work for an industry that I care about greatly,” Verett said.
Although farming was not his long-term goal after graduating from Texas Tech University with a degree in accounting, Verett returned home to the family farm where he worked with his brother, Eddie.
“Over the years, my brother and I have had excellent working and personal relationships,” Verett said. “We complemented each other very well and it enabled me to do a lot of things outside of the farm.”
“It’s the greatest job in the world for a guy like me that I get to work for an industry that I care about greatly.”Steve Verett
While he loves working closely with his brother, Verett said he knew if he was ever going to make a move away from the farm to something like policy, his involvement within other organizations would matter greatly. In 1993, Verett was given an opportunity to work for Texas Food and Fibers Commission, a state agency that conducts agricultural research contracted for research with four different universities in the state, Texas Tech being one of them.
While growing a passion for policy working with the Texas Food and Fibers Commission, Verett said this opportunity has continued to contribute to his career today.
“I really got a completely different perspective that has served me well since then,” Verett said.
After being offered his current position as CEO, Verett has been leading PCG since 1997. PCG is a non-profit producer organization composed of cotton producers in the Texas High Plains. The organization focuses on legislation, research, promotion and service to assist the needs of their members, volunteers and producers.
“Now, you know, the fact of the matter is that while we may come up with some ideas and we may work on some things, it’s our volunteers that are the heart of this organization and that’s what makes us what we are today,” Verett said.
Verett said their staff is guided by their volunteers, and it is just the organization’s job to carry out the volunteers’ goals. While PCG only represents cotton growers in the 42 counties surrounding Lubbock, Verett and other staff members work with producers and legislators all over the country represent cotton farmers in Austin, Texas, and Washington D.C.
Barry Evans, a cotton farmer from Kress, Texas, and former president of PCG has worked with Verett for many years.
“Steve is incredible,” Evans said. “He is the go to guy for anything to do with cotton in West Texas and anywhere in the country.”
Verett’s role as CEO varies, but his most important job is contributing to agricultural legislation. Verett has had the opportunity to work on all farm bills since 1997, experiencing many highs and lows for the cotton industry.
“Well, you know, [farm bills] are all unique and some have certainly been disappointments,” Verett said. “Some we’ve been elated about.”
The first farm bill Verett worked on as a professional with PCG was the milestone 2002 Farm Bill. During this time, all of agriculture was coming off tough times with disaster and disaster programs, but with surplus dollars in the government, they were able to make some improvements within crop insurance and Title One programs critical to the area.
With the next farm bill taking place in 2008, Verett said this one was a status quo bill. With pressure coming from all sides, he considers it to be a victory nowadays. His experience with the 2014 Farm Bill varied greatly.
“Farm bill ‘14 was a very tired and disappointing farm bill from a cotton perspective,” Verett said. “As it turned out, we were lucky probably to maintain what we did.”
Cotton was removed from Title One for the first time in the history of farm programs in the 2014 Farm Bill, creating frustration for cotton farmers within the Texas High Plains and nationwide.
“The cotton industry decided that, in order to clear the decks, we had to do something completely different to clear this case up,” Verett said.
While working hard to help cotton farmers in the High Plains during this trying time, the Stacked Income Protection Program was implemented. While it was able to help cotton farmers, Verett said it was never going to be able to take the place of the price support program they had to give up.
“The ‘14 Farm Bill was really a low point for cotton from the standpoint that we weren’t like the rest of the commodities,” Verett said. “But you know, it was kind of one of those deals, you think that you got to make lemonade out of lemons and that’s what the industry did, and the leadership of the House Ag Committee helped us do.”
Verett said there were many attempts made to try to get cotton back into the farm bill. It was finally taken care of in February of 2018 when the Balanced Budget Act was passed to take cotton back into the bill as seed cotton rather than just lint, even before the farm bill was being discussed for the new authorization.
“So, it was a joyous day, when that was finally accomplished,” Verett said. “I shudder to think, where we would be today if we didn’t have that in place. It is absolutely critical at this point.”
Verett continues to fight the good fight, putting cotton farmers first. He said he attributes the success of the organization to those he surrounds himself with.
“I’m really not all that smart,” Verett said. “But I recognize talented people I think, and I’ve surrounded myself with talented people that have that fire in the belly for this industry.”