Texas Tech University

‘Paradise For a Cotton Guy’: FBRI Head Describes Lubbock Appeal

By: Karen Michael 

Paris has the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, cafes along the Champs-Élysées, the Moulin Rouge, and the Eiffel Tower.

But Lubbock has cotton, so that's where Eric Hequet is.

The Frenchman is the Horn Distinguished Professor at the Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute, or FBRI, as well as the Associate Vice President for Research in the Office of Research and Innovation.

Hequet came to Texas Tech in 1997, but he visited years earlier while he worked for the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development, or CIRAD. While he was stationed in Africa with CIRAD, he was sent to learn about cotton in the United States, and he drove all over the country over several months.

“One day, I ended up in Lubbock, in October,” Hequet said, describing it as a beautiful fall day. The next morning, it snowed.

“To me, cotton was a tropical crop. I couldn't believe cotton was under the snow. And when I went back to Africa three months later, nobody believed me,” Hequet said.

While he said cotton was grown to pay the taxes in small areas of Africa, he also was awed by the sheer amount of cotton planted around Lubbock.

Later, he was asked to come to Texas Tech to interview for the job of assistant director of FBRI.

“I came here. The main reason is because this is the highest concentration of cotton you will see anywhere in the world. There is nothing like that anywhere, in such a small area,” Hequet said. “That's a paradise for a cotton guy. That's the reason why, 24 years later, I'm still here. You cannot find this anywhere else.”

At Texas Tech, he said there are hundreds of technical people working on cotton between researchers, faculty, students, and farmers in the area surrounding Lubbock.

“That's what makes this place special, different,” he said.

Another thing that makes Lubbock and Texas Tech different in terms of cotton is that the university does not just research how to plant cotton. Texas Tech researchers work on transformation of the cotton product, fiber quality, and yarn quality. At FBRI, researchers test samples sent from different universities around the nation.

“The specificity of Texas Tech over any other university in the U.S. is that we go from the seed to the shirt. Nobody else does that,” Hequet said. “We are special because we are the only ones to make a piece of fabric, if we want to. No one else can do it.”

Texas Tech researchers also work on problems with water scarcity that plagues cotton growers. Because water scarcity also affects other crops in many other areas, that research can also be used more widely, Hequet said.

“If we want to develop some international research, everything around water and heat is extremely important,” Hequet said.

Hequet said Texas Tech's dedication to cotton research can be seen in terms of infrastructure. The university has several research farms and has recruited faculty who are working on research into areas such as plant genetics, soil, and water that will help cotton growers.

The FBRI is another key piece of Texas Tech's cotton infrastructure. It is equipped and staffed to conduct research and development from fiber testing all the way up to large-scale manufacturing.

“It's a lot of investment in terms of infrastructure. The FBRI is a big thing,” Hequet said.

Texas Tech owes its own development to the support of the community around it, so it's important to invest in research that helps the community.

“We don't exist without the community we have around us,” Hequet said.