From white fields to Wrangler jeans: A journey of N.C. cotton

by | May 22, 2020

Every Friday on social media, we post a Farm Feature Friday showcasing one of our dedicated North Carolina farmers. Donny Lassiter, of Lassiter Family Farms, is one of those farmers. The #FarmFeatureFriday campaign will run for an entire year on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Be sure to tune in each Friday afternoon on social and help show your support for our local farmers!

You might recognize this farmer from the label inside your Wrangler Jeans. Meet Donny Lassiter of Lassiter Family Farms in Conway.

Donny’s grandfather had always wanted to be a farmer and, upon returning from World War II, finally made that dream a reality in 1944 on 80 acres of family land. Originally the farm focused solely on cotton and peanuts. Donny grew up on the farm with his two brothers and remembers a great childhood learning the ins-and-outs of farming from his father. He is now trying to instill that same work ethic and love for farming in his two boys of 5 and 8-years-old.

Although the farm is now growing a variety of crops, including corn, peanuts, wheat and soybeans, cotton is the staple crop. The farm grows multiple varieties of cotton, including Stoneville and Deltapine. “Cotton is a heritage crop that has been a part of our state for years,” Donny said, “it is amazing to plant a seed as big as your fingernail and watch it grow to four feet of cotton that goes to make 500 pairs of jeans, feed animals or make money.” About 40% of the acreage on Lassiter Farm is allotted to cotton, most of which is processed in their personal cotton gin.

Springtime opens a brand new chapter for the farm each year. Cotton planting begins in May and is harvested from September to October. Donny starts his day with a morning staff meeting to set a game plan for the day and then the work begins. Depending on time of year, the crews sometimes work far into the afternoon, even after dinner, to ensure the work is complete. “Over the years, I have seen the industry change and improve in a variety of ways that have made harvesting and spraying easier on our crews,” Donny said, “because of modern technology we don’t have to spend the whole season in the field and we can harvest six rows at a time, which is a lot more efficient and less taxing on our workers.” Lassiter Farms also utilizes GPS tracking devices that ensure they don’t overuse fertilizers and keep a sustainable crop. Although Donny wishes he could spend more time on the tractor, he continues to love his job whether he is monitoring varieties, managing crews or talking with potential buyers.

In 2017, Wrangler jean was searching for sustainable farmers to create a new, local line of jeans and Lassiter Farms fit the bill. “I was serving on a committee and, through a recommendation, had the opportunity to show the Wrangler crew our farm and they liked what they saw,” Donny said, “it is a huge sense of pride and is amazing to know that I grew the cotton that made their North Carolina brand jean.” Through their program of partnering with farmers across the U.S., Wrangler is able to track their jeans back to the farm that the cotton originated from. “It’s been amazing to see how much consumer awareness of cotton farming has grown through our partnership with Wrangler in this program,” Donny said. He says the jeans are extremely comfortable and recommends everyone to buy a pair.

Donny says the hardest part of farming is the fact that you could do everything right throughout the season but lose it all in the 9th inning due to factors outside your control, such as weather. Despite the hardships, nothing compares to the joy he receives from providing a high quality cotton that touches people’s lives every day. “To describe cotton in three words I would say pride, passion and honor,” Donny said, “only because Fabric of our Lives is four words and already taken.” North Carolina ranks 8th nationally in cotton production and it is all thanks to farmers like the Lassiter family. When he is not farming, he dreams of one day attending the Kentucky Derby and visiting Germany in the summertime.