Twenty years later, as we honored our 2014 High Cotton Award winners, I doubt that any of us who were nervously preparing for that long-ago first presentation breakfast in San Antonio could have envisioned the success the program has enjoyed.
Nor could we, or likely anyone in the industry, have foreseen cotton’s changing fortunes over those two decades — from decades-old king of Sunbelt row crops then to distant runner-up to corn and soybeans now, from ho-hum markets to hold-on-to-your-hat stratospheric futures prices that ever so briefly topped $2.
At a time when newfangled personal computers were finding their way into farm offices (and often winding up as doorstops because practical applications were so scarce), who could have envisioned the tremendous impact technology has had on agricultural operations: precision applications, auto-steer, yield monitors, smart phones and tablets with more processing power than the computers that took men to the moon and back and which, via the Internet, put a world of information at one’s fingertips. And on and on, each new generation more sophisticated, more capable than the last.
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Cotton’s downturn and the shift to grains have had a wide-ranging impact on the industry, its organizations and infrastructure. Fewer growers and fewer acres have meant fewer purchases of cotton equipment (many growers sold everything and got out completely). Gin numbers have continued their downward slide. Fewer bales of cotton have meant fewer checkoff dollars for support of Cotton Incorporated’s research and promotion programs, for support of critical policy-developing and lobbying organizations such as the National Cotton Council (and a significant downsizing this year of its annual Beltwide Cotton Conferences).
And, says a retired Extension cotton specialist, “It is not only infrastructure shifts we are seeing, but cultural and generational as well — not much loyalty to cotton in the generation Xers and Millennials, many of whom do not realize that cotton bought the house and land they have, sent them to college, built churches, supported dealers and aerial applicators, and turned money over in local communities. How long before these newer, younger growers forget how to grow cotton?”
While cotton’s outlook hasn’t been rosy in the face of high-flying grains demand in recent years, we have continued to be impressed with the dedicated, competent, optimistic growers who are nominated for our High Cotton Awards.
They grow the crop increasingly efficiently and productively (and profitably), in the process employing practices that protect and preserve land, water, and resources for succeeding generations.
On behalf of Farm Press and the National Cotton Council’s Cotton Foundation, which co-sponsors the program, we salute all who have been selected for this recognition over the past two decades.