BY CECIL H. YANCY, JR.
From Cotton Grower Magazine – December 2015
Diversified Midwestern and Western ag producers got a feel for cotton in the famed “Cotton Patch” of West Texas as part of the National Cotton Council’s Multi-Commodity Education Tour (MCEP) in November.
On a three-day tour of West Texas, the 16 producers experienced the culture of agriculture on the southern High Plains, where three million acres of cotton are grown annually within a 90-mile radius.
Launched in 2006, the MCEP is coordinated by the NCC, along with local leaders and organizations. It’s supported by the Cotton Foundation with a grant from Deere and Company.
“The MCEP was set up as an exchange for farmers to visit different geographic regions to gain a better understanding of what concerns their peers face and how they produce a crop,” says John Gibson, NCC’s Director of Field Services and coordinator of the program.
“We constantly hear stories from producers of how they’ve gained a better understanding of concerns, issues and practices that different regions of the country face,” Gibson says. “The bottom line is, this kind of understanding creates a dialogue that benefits all of agriculture.”
Doyle Lentz, a Rolla, ND, producer, can vouch for the benefits. He said he learned as much or more from two tours on the MCEP as he has from visiting 33 countries over the last 20 years.
The tour included producer participants from North Dakota, Ohio, Minnesota, Iowa, Montana, Idaho and Missouri, representing a diverse palette of agricultural endeavors, including alfalfa, barley, canola, peas, potatoes, corn, cattle and soybeans.
The group hit the ground running, beginning in Lubbock at the Plains Cotton Growers Association for an overview of the organization and of High Plains cotton production. On the first day, the producers also visited the AgriLife Research & Extension Center, the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Ginning Laboratory, Hurst Farm Supply and Lubbock Cotton Growers Cooperative, before touring the Idalou Co-op Gin.
“So much cotton, for miles and miles,” remarked Mitch Konen, a producer from Fairfield, MT, upon seeing his first cotton fields. Last year, Konen – who raises barley, alfalfa and peas – hosted Southern cotton producers on his farm. He uses surface water on a federal irrigation project.
Making the trip south, he noted, “I never realized the way producers are having to tie wells together in order to get enough irrigation to water their crops and conserve. I’m amazed at the diversity and the difference between dryland, irrigated and reduced-water applications.”
The size – and cost – of the John Deere stripper and picker module builders caught the eye of every producer on the tour.
For Konen, one big takeaway from the trip was the success of the co-op model in west Texas. “They all work together for the good of the industry,” he said.
The education continued on the second day at the USDA-AMS Cotton Division cotton classing facility, followed by tours of peanut, cotton, organic cotton and vineyard operations at Seaton Farms and Birdsong Peanuts. The group also heard a presentation on how the Cotton Board’s producer- and importer-funded research and promotion program works.
“Cotton is the poster child for commodity identity,” said Greg Kessel, a Belfield, ND, producer, who visited cotton fields in the Southeast several years ago with the MCEP. “We all could learn a lot from what’s going on in cotton.”
On the last day of the tour, the group learned about cotton merchandising at Plains Cotton Cooperative Association and cottonseed processing at PYCO Industries. They also heard about water rights from the High Plains Water District; cotton warehousing and shipping at Farmers Co-op Compress; and whole cottonseed use in rations at Red Rock Dairy in Amherst.
The tour concluded with a wine tasting at Caprock Winery in Lubbock.
The group raved about the differences and yet the similarities between regions of the country.
“Despite our differences in regions and crops, we’re all related,” Konen said.
“I knew that a cotton T-shirt felt good to wear from time to time,” added Dwight Little, a Teton, ID, producer. “Now, I know why.”