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Cotton Harvester Donation Does More than Pick Cotton

When is a piece of machinery more than just a piece of machinery? When it comes as a donation that brings together faculty and students across agencies and departments within Texas A&M AgriLife and Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.


A team from Hlavinka Equipment Co. trains Texas A&M University faculty and students on the Case-IH Module Express 625 Cotton Picker that was donated by the Hlavinka family. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Steve Hague, Ph.D., was looking to purchase a newer cotton harvester for research plot work within the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences prior to the start of the 2021 cotton harvest season. When he asked for bids, one company and family offered more than just a bid.

Hlavinka Equipment Co. sent them a Case-IH Module Express 625 Cotton Picker. And then the Hlavinkas sent technical experts from Case IH to train about 40 people — research leaders, technicians, graduate students and undergraduate students — on the operation and maintenance of the cotton picker.

“Terry Hlavinka contacted me and said they would like to provide this gift,” Hague said. “They’ve been longtime supporters of not only the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, but our university.” 

In fact, he said, the last commercial cotton harvester on the A&M farm was a 1992 Case IH 2055, which was also donated by the Hlavinka family. 

Hlavinka blood runs deep at Texas A&M and in agriculture

The Hlavinka family is steeped in agriculture and Texas A&M tradition.

Terry Hlavinka ’85 is a former yell leader at Texas A&M; his brother, Kenneth ’90, a former Aggie Bonfire Redpot, and their father, Joe ’56, a former commanding officer in the Corps of Cadets. Joe is also a current member of the College of Agriculture Development Council.

Joe and his wife, Patty, were honored to be 1986 Parents of the Year and have seen all their five children graduate from Texas A&M – Michael ’83, Michelle ’84, Terry ’85, Sarah ’86 and Kenneth ’90. 

The family legacy of Aggie Former Students runs even deeper in the Hlavinka family to include Joe’s three brothers, two brothers-in-law, countless nieces and nephews, and several grandchildren. All of the four children of Terry and his wife, Susan, have attended A&M and have studied agriculture. Patrick ’23 will be the last of these four to earn his diploma.

Jillian ’22, daughter of Kenneth and his wife, Bonnie, will follow her older brother and also earn an agricultural degree.

Collectively, family members have established the William J. Hlavinka ’50 Fellowship Endowment, a chair for Czech studies, and multiple Presidential Endowed Scholarships. They also have donated dozens of tractors and provided major gifts for multiple colleges and athletics at Texas A&M. Collectively and individually, Hlavinka family members have been instrumental in recruiting masses of young men and women from across the globe to attend Texas A&M. 

Terry and Kenneth’s grandfather founded Hlavinka Equipment Company in 1939. Today, several third- and fourth-generation family members operate that business, led by Terry Hlavinka.

Kenneth Hlavinka manages Hlavinka Cattle Co., which markets cattle and produces rice, cotton, corn and soybeans on the brothers’ 25,000 acres spread across the coastal region. 

Together, the two established Hlavinka Commodities Co., which operates bonded warehouses for commercial drying and storage of rice. They also branched into development, including energy, entertainment and hospitality. Their Typhoon Texas Waterparks are also under Aggie leadership, the Pyek Group, which now operates four parks in three of the top 25 markets in the U.S.

“It is not surprising that Aggie leadership and participation is a common incidence across the portfolio of businesses,” Terry said.    

Improving and expanding research

Just as the Hlavinkas have expanded the Aggie service across many industries, Hague plans to expand the use of their gift to many others.

“We’re going to be able to leverage this piece of equipment immensely – it will allow all of us to expand our programs,” Hague said, adding the cotton picker will let them increase their research program from 40 acres of test plots to 60 acres this year.

“You need as many plots as you can get to improve the quality of your research,” he said. “This picker picks the crop completely clean and replicates what is going on in commercial fields.”

And it only takes a quarter of the time to get the harvest completed, Hague said.

“During Hurricane Harvey, we lost a lot of our research plots because they were destroyed before we could get them out of the field,” he said. “The newest cotton picker we were using was 40 years old, and we had another one that was over 50 years old. It almost qualified for Social Security.”

This year they will install some modifications to the new cotton picker and use it for plot harvesting. Hague estimates it will be used on about 200 acres of cotton each year.

Harvester is a teaching tool for many

Hague said the cotton picker won’t just be used in the research program; it will be used in all the field-based programs involving Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Texas A&M AgriLife Research entomology and cotton projects, weed science, cotton physiology and soil fertility projects in the Bryan-College Station area.

“It helps not only multiple agencies but also multiple departments within the College,” he said. “It also will improve our teaching. We employ a lot of research and graduate students, and they need to understand modern equipment – how to operate it and maintain it.

“So, I see this as a valuable teaching tool as much as a research tool. We’ll be able to teach dozens of students how to use this equipment each year, so, over the years, it will impact hundreds of students.”

Also, Hague said, Bobby Hardin, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Biological and Agriculture Engineering, is collaborating in the project to modify the machine for small plot harvesting by putting weigh scales on the picker. By involving his students, they learn how to create novel research equipment, which will also have a significant impact.  

“This one machine has really brought together a lot of programs to help us all move forward in one direction,” he said.

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