Ag News

Georgia Cotton Commission in time of transition

by Jay Stone, Georgia Farm Bureau

Posted on Feb 03, 2021 at 0:00 AM

As the Georgia Cotton Commission heads into 2021, it has a revamped staff and finds itself responding to new challenges that developed in 2020.

Executive Director Taylor Sills was promoted when Richey Seaton retired last year, Caroline Snyder was hired to handle outreach and education, office manager Martha Harris is set to retire in March and Kelly Rodgers has been hired to step in as operations coordinator after Harris retires.

“If I had to choose a word to talk about the work of the commission this week, I think I’d use the word transition,” said GCC Director Lee Cromley during the 2021 GCC Annual Meeting, held virtually on Jan. 27. “As I looked down the list of our speakers, that word transition applies to a lot of different organizations that you’ll hear from.”

There are changes in the federal government, where Rep. David Scott is now chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, and state government, where there are new chairmen on the Senate and House agriculture committees.

And of course, there is newly elected Georgia Farm Bureau President Tom McCall, whose position is designated as an ex officio member of the GCC board. McCall told the state’s cotton producers about GFB’s efforts to educate the public about farming and shared a commitment to continue the organization’s work advocating for the cotton industry.

“I appreciate the support of cotton with the mobile ag classroom that we have. We need to teach school-age kids where their food, fiber and shelter comes from. That’s probably one of the biggest things we’re working on right now. That’s what our foundation is doing,” McCall said. “Also, along with teaching the kids, we need to be teaching the adults that are generations away from what we all do, where their food and fiber comes from, and the fact that GMOs are not a bad thing. The folks that are buying the products we produce need to be educated, as well as the students.”

House Ag Committee Chairman David Scott

Scott spoke to meeting and emphasized the importance for agriculture groups to proactively pursue solutions to climate change, noting that the committee is planning to hold a hearing on climate change soon. The committee had no hearing scheduled at press time.

“This is so important, because we in agriculture have got to get out and be at the point of the spear on this whole challenge with climate change,” Scott said. “This is because nobody, no entity, no industry is more impacted by the weather and climate as our industry, agriculture. It is essential that our industry get out front on this now. There are a lot of movements on climate change coming from different directions.”

Scott also touched on promoting diversity, combating hunger, creating tax incentives to entice  processors and manufacturers to locate in rural towns, and expediting disaster aid for farmers.

Seed Coat Fragments

One key issue that arose late in 2020 and continues as the 2020 crop is processed is the presence of seed coat fragments. Georgia growers produced 2.1 million bales; more than 40% of them were found to have seed coat fragments. By comparison, the 2019 crop of 3.5 million bales handled in the AMS’ Macon Classing Office had less than 5% contaminated with seed coat fragments.

Darryl Earnest, USDA Deputy Administrator for the Agricultural Marketing Service’s cotton and tobacco program, and Dr. Ed Barnes, senior director of agricultural and environmental research for Cotton Inc., reviewed possible contributing factors. Both were convinced that wet weather at or just before harvest was the main culprit.

Multiple small rain events preceded the landfall of Hurricane Sally on Sept. 16, and rains persisted into October.

Earnest outlined how the classing office operates and noted that the Macon location did nothing different from other classing offices throughout the cotton belt.

Barnes described how persistent rain could result in seed coat fragments. If the seed stays wet in the boll, it can sprout, which leads to seed coat fragments. If the seed is wet when it is ginned, the seed coat breaks apart when it is pulled through gin ribs. And when there is repeated wetting and drying, the cotton seed shrinks and swells, which weakens the seed coat.

“It seemed like every time we turned around there was another hurricane on the horizon,” said Barnes. “Everything we’re seeing really indicates this was due to just a crazy weather event.”

The extraneous material results in a diminished loan value. GCC Executive Director Taylor Sills said the seed coat fragment contamination will hurt farmers financially for the 2020 crop and could result in changing buying habits by cotton users in future years.

“It also affects our reputation as a quality cotton state, but our industry has made strides. In 2020 we produced cotton with record staple length and record strength,” Sills said.

Sills said diminished loan values resulting from seed coat fragments could cost Georgia cotton producers more than $10 million on the 2020 crop.

Cotton Trust Protocol

GCC Vice Chairman Matt Coley, who also sits on the board of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, briefed Georgia producers on the protocol, its purpose, how to participate and what benefits they should derive from it.

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, Coley said, is going to measure, validate and verify the sustainability credentials for U.S. cotton. The plan to demonstrate sustainability arose from consumer demands for knowledge about farming practices.

“Joining the Trust Protocol, you’re going to be able to demonstrate that your cotton is grown responsibly and sustainably, and you’re going to be able to demonstrate that the U.S. is a leader in sustainable growing practices,” Coley said.

Participation includes a thorough self-assessment followed by a field print analysis. The self-assessment requires producers to answer questions about their farming practices, including things like tillage, water usage, and other topics.

Coley discussed the process of filling out the online assessment tool. He noted that the data will not be shared on an individual farm basis. Rather, it will be aggregated to develop an industry-wide picture of U.S. cotton practices.

“Once you do the self-assessment questionnaire, the Trust Protocol will give you some insights and ideas on some of the best practices across the industry,” Coley said. “Over time, the Trust Protocol will ultimately be a tool to show us how we can improve our operations from an efficiency and sustainability perspective.”

Coley said the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol included 560 growers in 2020, and that ultimately the hope is to have 50% of the U.S. cotton crop enrolled in the protocol.

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