Don Marble was a great interview and a good friend

Don Marble called me out of the blue one day last summer to talk about a commentary I had written concerning having spent most of my life working for Farm Press. The conversation evolved into discussions of crop conditions—they were not promising at the time—agriculture in general and some amusing observations on West Texas, or agriculture, or the state of the world.

I always enjoyed talking and listening to him.

He ended that conversation by expressing his appreciation for what I do for agriculture. I thought then and still do that I don’t do nearly enough but appreciated encouragement from someone I admired and respected as much as I do Don Marble.

That was the last conversation I had with Don. I was looking forward to stopping by his farm this spring, just to catch up, chat a bit and perhaps weave his observations into another article.

He passed away earlier this week. He was 82. I will miss him.  

I’ll miss that twinkle in his eye that brought a smile to my face every time I saw him at a cotton meeting, on his farm or, on a particularly memorable occasion, at the 50-Yard Line restaurant in Lubbock. He and his lovely, pleasant, wonderful wife Nancy and I enjoyed a nice dinner after which Don and I talked about the drought.

We had coffee. The waiter asked if he cared for cream. “Is the coffee good?” he asked.
Yes sir,” the waiter replied. “Then I don’t need cream.” I’ve stolen that remark occasionally and once a waiter said: “I’ll bring the cream.”

Don would have appreciated that honesty.

I’ll miss Don Marble’s encyclopedic knowledge of West Texas weather. He farmed through some of the worst droughts of the last century and the significant droughts of this one.  Don had rainfall records for the area around his South Plains farm going back to the 1930s, showing how the current drought stacked up against the historical ones. I recall him telling me that the drought of 2011 was the worst one-year drought he had farmed through. At the time, the 50’s drought was still the longest.

He made his first crop more than 60 years ago and noted in a 2004 Southwest Farm Press article that a bumper cotton yield in 1947 finally brought his family out of the Depression that lingered in the rural south long after other parts of the country had begun to enjoy a post-war recovery.

“We made enough that year to dig an irrigation well,” Marble said. “1948 was dry but we made a crop on irrigation.”

In 1951 he started a partnership with his brothers Fred and Keith, Marble Bros. Farms. They were all just teenagers. 

I’ll miss Don Marble’s perspective on farm legislation. He worked on more than a few farm bills and knew the intricacies—and the intrigues—necessary to get the best program possible for farmers.

A comment he made in that 2004 article has proven prophetic. “It's a miracle that we have the program in effect today,” he said, “and it is a tribute to Texas congressmen. They cooperated with PCG and lobbyists and worked with the U.S. Senate to get what we needed in the farm bill. I didn't think we'd ever get a direct payment. It's a good program.”

”Holding onto it may prove equally difficult,” he said.

Mostly I’ll miss Don’s wit, his integrity, and his ability to make me feel like what we do as farm reporters matters. I think he knew how much I respected him. I hope he knew how much I liked him.

One of the first thoughts I had on hearing of Don’s passing was that I would have liked to have interviewed him one more time. I would have enjoyed an update on this prolonged drought, this farm bill and the price of cotton. But one more interview would not have been enough. I could have done a dozen more interviews and still failed to learn as much as I wanted to know about Don Marble.

He was a good man.

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