Don’t Forget BWCC In New Orleans

October 18, 2013

It seems like it was just a few months ago that we were finishing up the 2013 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio, but it’s already time to make preparations for the 2014 conference scheduled for Jan. 6-8 in New Orleans.

I’ve already received the usual reminders from the National Cotton Council about pre-registering for the conference, and, of course, making hotel reservations. Even though the 2014 BWCC will be a bit different this time around, here’s hoping that producers and other interested parties will find it useful to attend all or at least part of the conference in New Orleans.

As I have said many times through the years, it’s hard to imagine starting any new season without attending this conference. For an ag editor, this is where we gain so much information about all phases of cotton production. It gets us started in the new year with enough interviews to keep us going for several months.

Just as farmers have had to adapt to new market conditions, we in the media are having to adapt to the same situation with regard to this conference. Even though it will be scaled back a bit, we still look forward to attending the Consultants Conference on the first two days, and it will be especially memorable on the first night when Cotton Farming and Syngenta co-sponsor our Cotton Consultant of the Year reception at the New Orleans Marriott Hotel. And don’t miss out on the chance to attend the Technical Conferences on Tuesday and Wednesday (Jan. 7-8) where attendees will gain access to some valuable information on a wide array of topics.

The Beltwide Cotton Conference is more than a meeting where important information is transferred from the experts to consultants and farmers. It is a chance to renew friendships and catch up with old friends. Given the challenges the U.S. cotton industry faces today, I’d say that we need our friends now more than ever.

I attended my first Beltwide in 1992 at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville – a mere 21 years ago. What I remember most about that event was getting lost every day as I tried to walk from my room to the meeting rooms. That’s when I realized that my sense of direction wasn’t the greatest in the world.

Regardless of my inability to navigate the Opryland, I still have nothing but good memories of this meeting, and I’m glad that we’ll once again have the opportunity to participate in this industry tradition. I look forward to being in New Orleans, and I hope to see all of my ag friends there.

West Tennessee Farm Stays Loyal To Cotton

August 5, 2013

It’s refreshing when you can find a farmer here in the Mid-South who remains loyal to cotton, despite the temptation to follow the market and chase those high grain prices. Such a farming operation exists in West Tennessee, and you’ll learn more about the Luckey family when you read the cover story in the August issue of Cotton Farming.

I had heard about this family for many years but never had the opportunity to visit Jason, his father Rege, brother Ken and nephew Zac. Finally, I made contact with Jason in mid-July, and made the trek to the tiny community of Medina north of Jackson. When I turned off Highway 45, I thought I had ventured into a typical city suburb with new houses dotting the landscape. But, then, I ventured on for a few more miles and made a left turn into a remote area, and there was the Luckey farm office inside an old building. A couple of dogs greeted this Memphis visitor and escorted me into the office where Rege was ready to chat. A few minutes later, nephew Zac and Jason came walking in and joined the conversation.

Before going out to view the cotton fields, Jason talked about why it makes economical sense to keep cotton in a regular rotation program with corn and soybeans. Each crop helps the other and replenishes the soil every three years. And even though it might be tempting to sell all the cotton equipment, there is simply too much invested to walk away from this crop completely.

To hear Jason describe his farm’s business plan, it made perfect sense. Naturally, one blueprint can’t fit every farm. But when the history of a farm shows how a regular rotation between crops produces stability in good and bad times, it was easy to see why the Luckeys don’t have any plans to abandon cotton. The family also made a recent purchase of a new John Deere on-board module picker. That proves the commitment to cotton for the long-term.

Cotton production in West Tennessee isn’t easy – mainly because of rolling terrain, which necessitates dryland farming and no irrigation. However, even in the hills of this part of the state, farmers are beginning to implement various kinds of irrigation systems.

What’s the takeaway message here? Staying with cotton can be an emotional decision. But, in the case of the Luckey family, it’s the right business decision.

And no family member has any regrets.

Tip Of The Hat To Tony Williams

July 12, 2013

Recently, the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association conducted its summer meeting on a special cruise trip in the Gulf of Mexico. More than 238 members and associates were on board for the festivities. One of the highlights of the meeting was a special award given to TCGA’s executive vice president Tony Williams, who has just completed 25 years of service to the organization,

I have known Tony since those early days in the mid-1980s when both of us were on the staff of the National Cotton Council. When he left the NCC and accepted the offer to lead TCGA in 1988, it was a pivotal moment for both Tony and the TCGA. Looking back on 25 years, I’d say it’s been a win-win situation for all parties. You might say that Tony was in the right place at the right time to have been offered such an opportunity at age 27. But he was definitely the right man for the job. He helped bring stability to TCGA and was one of the driving forces that helped the organization increase its membership. Today, TCGA collects dues on about 98 percent of the cotton ginned in Texas. It has expanded its service to member gins and now offers affordable workers compensation insurance through the Texas Cotton Ginners Trust. TCGA also helps its members in dealing with regulatory agencies, including environmental, trucking and utility rates. And let’s not forget the time that Tony spends working with the state legislature where he offers representation on issues that affect Texas ginners.

For more than two decades, Cotton Farming magazine also has had a special relationship with Tony and TCGA. Our publication is a co-sponsor of TCGA’s annual meeting and cotton trade show in Lubbock. We have gladly provided coverage of this annual event and have supported other TCGA activities such as the scholarship program with Texas Tech University.

If there is any secret to Tony’s success at TCGA, it might be complete professionalism in his approach to the job. He knows how to delegate responsibility to his able staff in Austin – Kelley Green and Aaron Nelsen. And he has developed an excellent reputation for getting things done – especially when it comes to working with the legislature and other industry organizations on key issues.

And, yes, Tony’s best quality might be his cool demeanor no matter what potential crisis might loom over the horizon. We salute TCGA’s executive vice president for the job he continues to do for Texas ginners, and we wish him many more years of service to the cotton industry.

Can Divided House Pass Farm Bill?

June 26, 2013

It would certainly be easy to become depressed over actions of the House after its stunning rejection of the Farm Bill. There was such anticipation about the House continuing the bipartisanship of the Senate in passing this long awaited legislation. If I had been more attentive and listened to what some of my ag friends were saying, I probably could have foreseen that this bill wasn’t going anywhere. There were too many forces at work for it to have passed. It came down to many of the liberals in the House not wanting to vote for such a big cut in the food stamp program. And there were too many Republican defectors who simply didn’t appreciate ag’s importance to the economy.

For that reason, we have to hand it to House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas who continues to take the high road. He says this Farm Bill will somehow get passed and head to conference – no matter how disappointing the recent vote was. In a recent report, Lucas said the key to passing any Farm Bill is to concentrate on the moderate members in both parties. He says the extreme liberals and conservatives are too unpredictable, and that’s why they may have defected on this most recent vote. It’s the folks in the middle who can be counted on to support a workable Farm Bill.

To hear Lucas say this makes sense. The Oklahoman has never been known to criticize any of his House colleagues even when they abandon ship on him. He doesn’t discourage easily. So, once again, he’s being quite optimistic and claims that he and his staff will analyze how members voted – and then re-tool the bill in hopes of gaining passage this summer. We applaud him for this kind of attitude.

This vote in the House reminds me again of an earlier time when ag legislation was bipartisan. It was the one issue in Congress where partisan politics didn’t affect the outcome. Those days are over, I’m afraid. But if Chairman Lucas is to be believed, he will find those votes among the moderates in the House – and he will get this bill passed. All it takes is 218 votes. Lucas says he “will get it done….but I’m just not sure how crooked the trail is going to be.”

Here’s hoping it happens fast.

Monsanto Media Days – Chance For Dialogue

June 3, 2013

A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to participate in Monsanto’s Media Days event in St. Louis, which brought together about 25 ag media representatives from across the country. The two-and-a-half day session created an opportunity for the company to share what’s coming in the pipeline in terms of new products and initiatives. But it also gave the media a chance to engage in interesting interactive sessions with Monsanto leadership on a variety of issues.

I have attended several of these Monsanto events through the years, and I am always impressed by the candor expressed by company officials. No topic or question was off limits during the sessions. From Supreme Court rulings to dealing with world hunger, there was a chance to engage in some lively debate.

For instance, it couldn’t have been easy for Monsanto officials to have to deal with the USDA-APHIS decision to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS) on soybean, corn and cotton plants designed to tolerate 2,4-D and dicamba herbicides. The move could delay the introduction of new products containing these herbicide-tolerant traits to the market for an additional two to four years. Shannon Hauf, Monsanto’s Global Dicamba and Weed Management Lead, fielded questions on the topic and continued to express confidence that approval will eventually occur. She couldn’t give any timetable on how long it would take for the approval, but she said it could work to Monsanto’s advantage by giving more time to show that these products are safe – and desperately needed by farmers.

Hauf ought to think about applying for a job as the press secretary at the White House. I have never seen any company spokesman show more poise and quick thinking in response to difficult questions. Yes, she was disappointed about the ruling, but she quickly pointed out that the delay merely means that Monsanto can bolster its case and present an even stronger argument for dicamba-tolerant products. If somebody were writing a manual on how a company official should deal with a crisis, you couldn’t have found a better example than what Hauf offered in her remarks.

This was just one example of the interesting interaction that occurred at this meeting. During one afternoon session, two to three Monsanto officials were stationed at each of eight circular tables. The media reps spent about 20 minutes at each table and were free to ask any question of the group. During one of the sessions, a reporter asked a Monsanto official what it was like to engage the media in these kinds of unscripted sessions. The Monsanto official replied that it was beneficial to share information with the media – while also trying to gauge what was on the minds of reporters.

This kind of dialogue is beneficial to all parties. First, it gives the media access to more information to generate the best possible stories to readers. Second, it builds trust between the media and a company.

In the end, everybody’s objectives were realized.

Monsanto Media Days – Chance For Dialogue

June 3, 2013

A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to participate in Monsanto’s Media Days event in St. Louis, which brought together about 25 ag media representatives from across the country. The two-and-a-half day session created an opportunity for the company to share what’s coming in the pipeline in terms of new products and initiatives. But it also gave the media a chance to engage in interesting interactive sessions with Monsanto leadership on a variety of issues.

I have attended several of these Monsanto events through the years, and I am always impressed by the candor expressed by company officials. No topic or question was off limits during the sessions. From Supreme Court rulings to dealing with world hunger, there was a chance to engage in some lively debate.

For instance, it couldn’t have been easy for Monsanto officials to have to deal with the USDA-APHIS decision to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS) on soybean, corn and cotton plants designed to tolerate 2,4-D and dicamba herbicides. The move could delay the introduction of new products containing these herbicide-tolerant traits to the market for an additional two to four years. Shannon Hauf, Monsanto’s Global Dicamba and Weed Management Lead, fielded questions on the topic and continued to express confidence that approval will eventually occur. She couldn’t give any timetable on how long it would take for the approval, but she said it could work to Monsanto’s advantage by giving more time to show that these products are safe – and desperately needed by farmers.

Hauf ought to think about applying for a job as the press secretary at the White House. I have never seen any company spokesman show more poise and quick thinking in response to difficult questions. Yes, she was disappointed about the ruling, but she quickly pointed out that the delay merely means that Monsanto can bolster its case and present an even stronger argument for dicamba-tolerant products. If somebody were writing a manual on how a company official should deal with a crisis, you couldn’t have found a better example than what Shannon Hauf offered in her remarks.

This was just one example of the interesting interaction that occurred at this meeting. During one afternoon session, two to three Monsanto officials were stationed at each of eight circular tables. The media reps spent about 20 minutes at each table and were free to ask any question of the group. During one of the sessions, a reporter asked an Monsanto official what it was like to engage the media in these kinds of unscripted sessions. The Monsanto official replied that it was beneficial to share information with the media – while also being able to gauge what was on the minds of reporters.

This kind of dialogue is beneficial to all parties. First, it gives the media access to more information to generate the best possible stories to readers. Second, it builds trust between the media and a company.

In the end, everybody’s objectives were realized.

Memorial Day Always A Special Holiday

May 24, 2013

Some of you may get tired of how I always have to do some reminiscing on Memorial Day weekend. But that’s OK. If the worst thing anybody can say about me is that I spend too much time talking about this special holiday, I have no problems whatsoever. The fact is, I always remember some event or person during this weekend that makes me appreciate our folks who have served in the military. And, in my case, we’re talking about my grandfather William C. Horton, my father Roy T. Horton, my uncle Dick Horton and my son Jeff. Each served this country honorably, and once a year it renews my sense of patriotism when I think about them – and anyone else who has worn a military uniform.

Many of you can recall when I’ve written in Cotton Farming magazine about my family’s connection to the military. My grandfather served in the Spanish-American War. He served with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders more than 100 years ago. My father was a career non-commissioned officer in the Air Force and a top turret gunner on a B-17 that flew bombing missions over Germany, Italy and other parts of Europe during World War II. Finally, my son Jeff was an Army officer who spent seven and a half years in the military. He served as a medical evacuation helicopter pilot and did two tours in Afghanistan and one tour in Iraq. He’s now an airline pilot and lives in Virginia.

I have friends say that it would be too stressful to have a son serving in a war on the other side of the world. They can hardly bear the thought of such a scenario. I try to respect their opinion, but, at the same time, I also am proud that we have young men and women who are brave enough to serve this country – no matter how much danger is involved. A high price has to be paid to defend this country’s freedom. And, too often we tend to forget that our soldiers are there on the front lines around the world defending what we hold most sacred – freedom and liberty. I can remember talking to soldiers who said they only had one request of the American people: “Don’t forget us.”

For that reason, I never let a Memorial Day pass by without joining my 85-year-old mother as we visit Memorial Park and National Cemetery in Memphis. We place flags at the gravesites of my father, uncle and grandfather. And we always pause to look at other flags that have been put out to honor our fallen soldiers. It gives us a sense of pride to see so many flags displayed in such a spectacular fashion.

If we are true patriots, we should remember soldiers every day of the year. But, on Memorial Day, amidst the backyard pool parties, barbecue cookouts, parades and fireworks displays, here’s hoping that all of us will take a few minutes and think about what our lives would be like if we didn’t have brave soldiers serving our country around the world. Life would be very different.

The next time you’re walking through an airport or restaurant and see a group of soldiers, stop and shake their hands. You’ll be amazed at how it makes you feel. The soldiers will appreciate it, and you’ll know what it feels like to see American heroes up close and personal.

May we never forget our soldiers. They are simply the best and bravest that America has to offer.

Floods Remind Us Of How It Was In 2011

April 26, 2013

As I continue to watch these television reports of flooded areas of the Mississippi River in the upper Midwest, I am reminded of what happened just two years ago here in the Mid-South. And I am hopeful that I won’t see what many of us experienced during that forgettable spring. If you lived here in Memphis, it’s hard to forget how the Mississippi River went over its banks and flooded farmland in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. Some people called it a “100-year flood,” but maybe it was premature to describe it that way. Regardless of the adjectives used, it was a difficult time for farmers who had acreage near Ole Man River. Here we are two years later, and suddenly we’re seeing a repeat of that unforgettable spring.

If we learned anything about that flood of 2011, it’s that whatever happens in the upper Midwest eventually makes it way south. Sooner or later, we will probably see tributaries of the Mississippi overflow their banks. Let’s just hope that the severity of the floods won’t cause a major backup into these smaller rivers. Two years ago, I recall visiting Brian McDaniel, a cotton farmer near Forrest City, Ark. He saw his acreage flooded in early May, and his situation looked hopeless at that point. He had already forward contracted his crop, and as he surveyed his acreage in May, his prospects looked bleak.

But, then, something remarkable happened. The water began to recede, and Brian decided to roll the dice. He figured that he had to replant during that first week of June and hope that he could salvage something out of his crop. Some of his neighbors thought he was crazy, but Brian just kept going forward. When I visited him in mid-July, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Due to some hot temperatures in June and early July, the late-planted crop had made a miraculous comeback. Call it divine intervention or just a plain old miracle.

Eventually, Brian harvested a pretty good crop in the fall and was able to survive. This story proved one thing to me. Even recordbreaking floods can’t snuff out the hopes of a farmer who strategically finds a way to deal with such a disaster. Sometimes happy endings do occur after a flood or any other kind of natural disaster. Nobody is saying that the floods north of Memphis will eventually resemble what we saw in 2011. But, if they do, don’t be surprised if farmers find a way to navigate their way toward delivering a crop in the fall.

It’s been done before, and it can happen again.

Floods Remind Us Of 2011

April 25, 2013

As I continue to watch these television reports of flooded areas of the Mississippi River in the upper Midwest, I am reminded of what happened just two years ago here in the Mid-South. And I am hopeful that I won’t see what many of us experienced during that unforgettable spring. If you lived here in Memphis, it’s not hard to recall how the Mississippi River went over its banks and flooded farmland in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. Some people called it a “100-year flood.” Regardless of the adjectives used, it was a difficult time for farmers who had acreage near Ole Man River. Here we are two years later, and suddenly we’re seeing a repeat of that historic spring.

If we learned anything about that flood of 2011, it’s that whatever happens in the upper Midwest eventually makes it way south. Sooner or later, we will probably see tributaries of the Mississippi overflowing their banks. Let’s just hope that the severity of the floods won’t cause a major backup into these smaller rivers. Two years ago, I also remember visiting Brian McDaniel, a cotton farmer near Forrest City, Ark. He saw his acreage flooded in early May, and his situation looked hopeless at that point. He had already forward contracted his crop, and as he surveyed his acreage in May, his prospects appeared bleak.

But, then, something remarkable happened. The water began to recede, and Brian decided to roll the dice. He figured that he had to replant during that first week of June and hope that he could salvage something out of his crop. Some of his neighbors thought he was crazy, but Brian just kept going forward. When I visited him in mid-July, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Due to some hot temperatures in June and early July, the late-planted crop had made a miraculous comeback. Call it divine intervention or just a plain old miracle.

Eventually, Brian harvested a pretty good crop in the fall and was able to survive. This story proved one thing to me. Even recordbreaking floods can’t snuff out the hopes of a farmer who strategically finds a way to deal with such a disaster. Sometimes happy endings do occur after a flood or any other kind of natural disaster. Nobody is saying that the floods north of Memphis will eventually resemble what we saw in 2011. But, if they do, don’t be surprised if farmers find a way to navigate their way toward delivering a crop in the fall.

It’s been done before, and it can happen again.

Cotton Still Alive In The Mid-South

March 22, 2013

Recently, I spent the day in Starkville, Miss., to visit Darrin Dodds, Mississippi’s Extension cotton specialist. It was sunny, but temps barely made it to 40 degrees on the drive down I-55 to Winona and then going east on US 82. It had rained three inches two nights before I made the trip, so every field was soaked with pools of standing water everywhere. Nobody has to be reminded how much cotton acreage has decreased in this state. It was just a few years ago that Mississippi boasted more than one million acres of cotton. That was before the incentive to grow soybeans and corn had arrived in the Magnolia State.

If I had made this trip in early summer, I would have been looking at solid corn and soybean fields on both sides of I-55. That’s the way it’s been for the last few years. The high price of these two commodities – combined with the flexibility of Mid-South farmers – has created a different environment here in this part of the world. The latest word we’re receiving is that Mississippi will plant close to 200,000 acres of cotton this year. That figure by itself is a bit discouraging to anyone who has been involved in cotton production in this state.

However, before anyone becomes too depressed by this fact, take note of this encouraging bit of news. Cotton hasn’t disappeared from Mississippi. An interesting trend has occurred in the last couple of months. For a variety of reasons, cotton prices have rebounded and are now close to 90 cents. This recent surge has caught the attention of a lot of Mississippi and Mid-South farmers. Some of the more optimistic onlookers are saying that prices could head to 95 cents and beyond. That might be a bit optimistic but even Darrin Dodds says he’s hearing from a lot of Mississippi farmers who will try to move more acres into cotton to lock in these prices. This isn’t going to turn into a tidal wave with major acreage shifts for cotton. But it is encouraging that cotton hasn’t been completely forgotten by Mid-South producers.

As we like to say in the business, it’s a start!!!


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