Fred Bourland has spent the bulk of his life in an Arkansas cotton field, where his work on genetic varieties has enhanced the profitability of farmers. He grew up on a cotton farm in Mississippi County, south of Manila (more specifically between Lost Cane and Whistleville). He went to the University of Arkansas, he says, to escape the cotton farm, though his studies there led him back to the cotton field and Arkansas agriculture is the benefactor of that serendipity.

With a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University in hand in 1978, Bourland went to work as an assistant professor and cotton breeder at Mississippi State University. In 1988, he returned to Arkansas as a professor to breed cotton varieties and teach at the Bumpers College of Agriculture. In 1997, Bourland moved to Keiser – roughly 10 miles from his family’s Mississippi County farm – to continue his cotton breeding and research program while serving as director for the Northeast Research and Extension Center. In 2016, he stepped down as director and now focuses all his energy on cotton variety development.

Including graduate school, Bourland has spent more than 50 years working the field he thought he was walking away from when he left for college.

His accolades are many, including the 2000 Genetics Research Award from the National Cotton Council, the 2010 International Cotton Researcher of the Year from the International Cotton Advisory Committee and the 2015 Cotton Research and Promotion Program Hall of Fame from the Cotton Board and Cotton, Inc., among others.