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Seamless Leadership Change at the National Cotton Council

From Cotton Grower Magazine – December 2014

 

Change is inevitable. The challenge is to make sure those transitions of change occur smoothly and seamlessly.

That’s certainly the case at the National Cotton Council, where President and CEO Mark Lange and Senior Vice President of Washington Operations John Maguire are both stepping into retirement following the NCC’s annual meeting in February. It’s a transition for which the NCC Board of Directors has been preparing. And, according to NCC Chairman Wally Darneille, the organization has the right people in place to continue the Council’s operations and programs without missing a beat.

“Mark and John have each provided incredible service in what has clearly been one of the most difficult times that the cotton industry has ever experienced,” said Darneille. “They’ve helped write multiple farm bills in a time of extreme budget pressures with a dwindling number of people in government who understand or appreciate the value of production agriculture. They have also guided us through the Brazil WTO case and through other cases in Peru and Turkey with fantastic leadership.

“They have epitomized the unity in the cotton industry, which is really the main mission of the National Cotton Council,” he added. “And they have done that well – from the farm and gin to Washington, DC to Geneva and all over the world. They have been fantastic ambassadors.”

Gary Adams, currently NCC’s Vice President of Economics and Policy Analysis, will succeed Lange as President and CEO. Adams, who joined NCC in 2002, has an extensive background in economic analysis, as well as legislative and trade issues.

“People in the industry have great respect for Gary’s grasp of the issues and for his ability to present them in a cohesive and coherent way,” said Darneille. “His grasp of the underlying economics allows him to communicate the realities of what these policies mean to the people in Washington. That’s a difficult task, and Gary is very good at it.”

Stepping into the Washington Operations role is Reece Langley, who brings 13 years of Washington experience to NCC, most recently serving as government affairs lead for USA Rice Federation. Langley, who grew up on a cotton farm in north Alabama, was also actively involved in development of the last two farm bills, working side-by-side with Maguire and representatives of other commodity organizations.

Even with the latest Farm Bill and the Brazil WTO case in the rearview mirror, both Adams and Langley recognize that the industry’s challenges are far from over. They’re realistic enough to know that the challenges – and opportunities ahead – can still be daunting.

“It’s a positive that the Farm Bill was finally completed in 2014,” said Adams. “From cotton’s perspective, we’re looking forward to some of the new insurance products that will be coming online for 2015. But getting those available in the marketplace and continuing to get producers educated are still key challenges. Obviously, as we go through the rest of the education process, we hope things will settle down and the programs will work as they are intended.”

However, both admit there’s no guarantee the Farm Bill debate has ended.

“With midterm elections behind us and a new Congress coming in January, the question will be is there going to be an attempt to significantly reduce federal spending?” said Langley. “And if so, how does agriculture and the Farm Bill play into that? One would hope that the Farm Bill can be maintained as is. But we need to be prepared to defend it against further calls for program budget cuts.”

Adams also points out that trade policy will continue to be important for the cotton industry, especially now that the Brazil case has been settled.

“We have a number of other trade policy issues that we need to focus on,” said Adams. “Resolving Brazil puts the U.S. and the U.S. cotton industry in a much stronger position. We’ve made the difficult changes in our policy, and now we can be more proactive in looking at what other countries are doing.”

The NCC has a proud history of strong advocacy and leadership for the cotton industry. In addition to the transition at two key positions, Council programs remain solid in other areas of the industry through leadership provided by NCC vice presidents Fred Johnson, Craig Brown, Harrison Ashley and Bill Norman.

Only one question remains – one that was lightheartedly discussed during the search process. Can a south Alabama native with a degree from the University of Alabama (Adams) work closely with an Auburn grad (Langley)? Both contend it’s no problem, making them a good match for the U.S. cotton industry…for at least 364 days a year.

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