Richey Seaton Reports: GCC Meeting Goals and Addressing Challenges

  Since its creation the mission of the Georgia Cotton Commission is to help our growers produce a high-yielding, high quality, profitable crop and secure the future of Georgia’s cotton industry through research, promotion and education.   This year’s programs approved by the Commission’s Board of Directors continue to strive to meet the goals set forth in our mission statement.

Budget reductions at the state and federal levels are strongly impacting our cotton research efforts in terms of human capital and infrastructure.  The Commission allocated over $500,000.00 to fund research projects for Fiscal or Calendar year 2012. Each of the projects is focused on grower identified priorities.  These include glyphosate resistant weeds, nematodes, new variety management, variable rate technology, irrigation management and economic decision making tools.  The Commission recognized the need to work with the University of Georgia’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences to provide funding for a cotton physiology research position.  This agreement was completed and the cotton physiology position will be filled in time for next year’s growing season; therefore we will not lose a year of valuable research.  The Commission’s partnership with the College will continue with our mutual goal of maximizing the return on the investment of producer funds.

In the past, federal funds for cotton research have been secured with the support of members of our Georgia congressional delegation.  The elimination of ear marks and special research grants at the federal level means fewer dollars to address pressing issues such as cotton insect management and irrigation research.  Reductions in the budget of the United States Department of Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Service are another point of concern.  The American farmer and our country have always benefited from a strong base of agricultural research and it is a challenge trying hold the line on further budget cuts and be advocates for funds to support research in the most productive segment of our country’s economy.

How will we replace these lost funds?  Our Washington representative advises that earmarks will return in some form, but when?  The replacement of these lost funds will challenge the Commission to look further and reach out to new research partners.  One success story is in the cooperative effort between the Commission, the University of Georgia and the Georgia staff of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to fund a pilot project to address glyphosate resistant pig weed management project that involves using a heavy cover crop to reduce pigweed pressure.  We have also worked with NRCS, University of Georgia and the National Peanut Lab to establish drip irrigation plots in different areas of our state in order to allow producers to observe this irrigation method and also identify researchable issues and expand the knowledge base of drip irrigation management.  Both of these research efforts are an excellent example of making to most of available resources.

Our nation’s fiscal crisis has and will affect farm policy.  Commodity groups were asked to develop farm policy recommendations to present to the Super Committee.  The National Cotton Council developed a policy recommendation in tune with current thinking across the country that the farm safety net should be based on crop insurance.  The Council has proposed a shallow loss program referred to as STAX.  If approved producers would be able to insure their crops at levels higher than present crop insurance indemnification levels.  This program would be supported by dollars coming from direct payments.  The reasoning behind this suggested policy is that spending baseline for cotton programs was not sufficient to develop other types of programs and addressing the obligation to the World Trade Organizations Brazil Cotton Case.  The Super Committee was unable to reach an agreement, and now the farm bill debate will go back to a normal schedule with hearings, etc.  Cotton is planning to go forward with the STAX proposal in these proceedings.  The Commission will be speaking and giving input into this process on behalf of Georgia cotton growers and related industries.

We usually talk about research and policy issues, but other aspects of the Commissions programs are also very relevant to our industry.  Our outreach and education program continues to spread the word about cotton and it many attributes from consumer preference to economic impact on our state and rural communities.  The Commission’s educational kit, “Cotton the Story,” is distributed nationally.  Recently, the Indiana Farm Bureau distributed 100 kits to volunteers in 100 of their counties at its Ag in the Classroom program.  This resulted in cotton’s story being studied in 4,550 classrooms and over 111,000 students learning about a crop not grown in their region. Cotton is featured as one of the Stories of Agriculture at the Georgia National Fair.  Our exhibit provides information on cotton from field to fabric and economic and historical data.  Attendance at this year’s fair was over 439,000.  We also participate in the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition.  This year the Commission was asked to participate in a tour for state legislators from the metro Atlanta area.  This type of event provides the opportunity to inform and educate these individuals on what agriculture is all about.  We appreciate the Georgia Agribusiness Council inviting us.  The Commission hosted a luncheon for members of the State House and Senate Agriculture Committees during the special session of the legislature last summer.  Members of the Commission each made brief comments on the importance of cotton and our industry’s priorities and concerns.

The Fifth Annual Meeting of the Commission is scheduled for Wednesday February 1, 2012, in Tifton at the UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center.  The program participants are outstanding and will provide information on cotton industry efforts and give a glimpse into future activities on behalf of our industry.  The meeting will also feature the UGA Cotton Production workshop breakout sessions on topics of interest and importance to our growers and allied industries.  Join us for a most informative day.

There are many things to be thankful for and there will continue to be challenges but be assured that the Commission is working and advocating for you.

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