Many of today’s agricultural industry organizations across the Mid-South were created by forward-thinking farmers and industry leaders who recognized a need. Through the years, those needs have been addressed in various ways by a wide range of associations whose leadership gave their time and talents to help carve a path of progress for the members they represented.
Regardless of their goals or depth of their coffers, Mid-South commodity organizations have played, and continue to play a vital role in the business of agriculture. A more in-depth review of how they were created and how they have managed to remain focused on their charge despite massive change is quite interesting.
When an organization attracts keynote speakers like philanthropist David Rockefeller, Nobel laureate William Faulkner, Apollo 14 Commander Admiral Alan B. Shepard, one must credit the organization’s level of success and far-reaching reputation.
The Delta Council was formed by a group of citizens who recognized that the 18 Delta and part-Delta counties in Northwest Mississippi needed a way to connect agricultural, business, and professional leaders in the area so their collective efforts could address and solve regional problems while strengthening the area’s economy.
“Delta Council initiatives have played a role improving our state’s transportation infrastructure and showing how private and public interests can be mutually-beneficial to the area’s economy,” says Chip Morgan, executive vice president of the organization since 1982. “I think we have shown how voluntary conservation can be more effective and less onerous than regulatory actions, policies, and laws.”
The first members of the Delta Council focused on agricultural research and shaping legislation that impacted the region’s farmers and the commodities they produced, but those early leaders are also credited with efforts leading to the development of the state’s modern 4-lane highway system, as well as drainage and flood control programs that were badly needed to ensure the very continuation of the region’s geographical existence.
Through committees that strategically address various segments of the Delta’s economic structure, problems are assessed and recommendations are forwarded to the council’s board of directors for review and action. Many of the council’s recommendations have been incorporated into regional and national legislation.
“The organization has a rich history of protecting and fighting for the best interests of southern agriculture,” says Keith Glover, president and CEO of Producers Rice Mill, Inc. “Delta Council is an integral part of our past and future success in the Mississippi Delta.”
The popularity of the Delta Council annual membership meeting, held each spring on the campus of Delta State University at Cleveland, Miss., is one of the most anticipated events each year, providing an opportunity for political posturing, social mingling, and the enjoyment of an old-fashion dinner on the grounds.
“Some things should never change,” commented a reporter many years ago after attending the event.
AGRICULTURAL COUNCIL OF ARKANSAS
Farmers who somehow sustained their operations through the Great Depression, in spite of its wide-ranging economic privations, often did so by pooling resources and sharing risks with others. A limited number of those survivors formed the Agricultural Council of Arkansas in the fall of 1939.
“They realized a need for an advocacy organization focused on row crops, while specifically targeting influence toward government policies that impacted them directly,” says Andrew Grobmyer, today’s executive vice president. “Those farmers had great vison, and were wise enough to found the “Ag Council” with a clear purpose, but also a broad mission. That has kept the organization in good stead for decades.”
While providing a voice for policy development and strong relationship with government officials are two member benefits, an “ag comp” workers’ compensation insurance program is now the organization’s most popular value-added benefit.
The council will celebrate its 80th anniversary in 2019. Its history of advocacy stretches from Little Rock to Washington D.C., where council leaders have influenced farm bills, commodity checkoff programs, and the founding of the Arkansas Agriculture Department.
“Not every farmer can give his or her leadership talent,” said Harvey R. Adams, vice president of the council in 1943, “but there is no excuse for not investing money to protect your interests. Experience has taught us you cannot wait until war is declared to form and train an army.”
MISSISSIPPI CATTLEMEN’S ASSOCIATION
An idea for creating an association to represent the interests of cattlemen was proposed by Paul Newell, a former Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service leader, and Charles Whittington, a cattleman from Greenwood, Miss., during a cattle field day at Mississippi State College (now Mississippi State University) in 1946.
Amazingly, 250 members were signed that day, each paying $3 annual dues. That led to the founding of the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association (MCA), and so began an association that today serves the interests of almost 4,000 members.
“From defeating a USDA proposal to collect cattle fees to fund the brucellosis eradication program, to our efforts to pass one of our state’s first beef labeling laws, the MCA has always fought to protect the interests of our members,” says Dr. Nancy Jackson, the first female president in MCA’s 72-year history.
Not only does MCA act as a state and national voice on issues impacting the cattle industry, it partners with national and state beef checkoff programs to expand markets and increase consumer demand for beef. “We are also very proactive in defending our industry against groups intent on eradicating animal agriculture,” says Jackson. “These groups have increased across our state, and nationally, and their efforts to impose burdens on our industry don’t go unaddressed.”
Over $500,000 in college scholarships have been presented to children and grandchildren of MCA members, with $65,500 in awards presented at their recent convention. “Over 20 years ago, we recognized that the median age of cattlemen was increasing, so we began sponsoring a ‘Making Tracks Leadership Camp’ each summer,” says Jackson. “Children of MCA members who are entering the ninth grade can learn a variety of cattle management and leadership lessons through workshops conducted by industry experts. This camp is fulfilling the organization’s mission by attracting and training the next generation of cattlemen and cattlewomen.”
Through their work with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, this fall MCA will again help sponsor a Cattlemen’s College with free workshops on cattle handling, herd health, and many more cattle-specific topics.
For more information visit www.mscattlemen.org
NATIONAL COTTON COUNCIL OF AMERICA
Over the years, few, if any, agricultural organization across the U.S. have been more successful at representing the unified interests of so many constituent segments than the National Cotton Council (NCC).
The first organizational meeting was held at the historic Peabody Hotel in Memphis November 21, 1938. By 1941, textile manufacturers became the sixth industry segment represented by the council, joining producers, ginners, warehousemen, merchants, and cottonseed crushers. Cotton cooperatives became the seventh segment in the 1960s. In 2004, a cottonseed segment was established, replacing the crusher segment, in order to include firms that merchandise cottonseed, along with cottonseed processors.
“A key bylaw provision that continues to hold this organization together today is that no position is taken without at least majority delegate approval from each interest voting separately,” says Dr. Gary Adams, president and chief executive officer. “That principle remains as important now as it did when the council was founded.”
The NCC mission strategically supports activities that help increase the competitiveness of all seven industry segments. While its marketing and trade-building programs have a history of success, it is the council’s work to gain legislative and regulatory policies favorable to cotton that have helped sustain the economic viability of the cotton industry for decades.
“There are so many issues facing this industry,” Adams says. “We work for solutions that benefit the entire industry. It is a very fluid and complex system of interrelated operations, and each is affected differently by various influences.”
NCC milestones are many, and words like “formation,” “introduced,” and “passage” are often part of their description. From the campaign to repeal a federal tax on margarine in the 1950s, to the more recent implementation of the gin cost-share program and restoring cotton’s eligibility for Title I programs under the 2014 farm law, the accomplishments of the council and the impact it has had on cotton’s behalf through the years are just too many to recount in one article.
The Cotton Foundation’s research and education programs, as well as management of the National Cotton Ginners Association and the American Cotton Producers Association, which provides a united voice for the producer segment, are among other services the council provides to support its mission of strengthening the industry’s ability to compete effectively and profitably in fiber and oilseed markets at home and abroad.
It is important to note that the National Cotton Council is financially supported by voluntary contributions from the seven segments it represents. With more than 25,000 members, and industry support at near record levels, the council’s domestic work within the U.S. cotton supply chain, and the marketing efforts of its export promotions arm, Cotton Council International, combine to keep U.S. cotton competitive in an ever-changing global market.
Cotton apparel and home fabrics dominated textile product retail sales in the early 1960s. By the mid-‘70s, after an influx of new synthetic petroleum-based fibers infiltrated the marketplace, backed by aggressive marketing and merchandising, cotton’s market share plummeted to just 34 percent — an all-time low.
Many thought cotton was “going the way of the buggy whip.”
But, a group of farmers in the High Plains of Texas rallied regional producer association support that culminated in the passage of the Cotton Research and Promotion Act of 1966, which created a funding system, via producer assessments, to support efforts to recapture cotton’s lost markets. Initially called the Cotton Producers Institute (CPI) and housed within National Cotton Council headquarters at Memphis, CPI later separated from the council and was renamed Cotton Incorporated in 1970.
The organization soon adopted a two-pronged “push/pull” marketing strategy that “pushed” innovative cotton textiles into the market, while creative promotion and advertising campaigns “pulled” consumers back to cotton, increasing demand for the natural fiber.
The creation of the Seal of Cotton trademark in 1973 became the central visual around which all Cotton Incorporated advertising and promotion efforts revolved. “It gave cotton a badly-needed identity at a time when it was having an identity crisis,” recalls Nick Hahn, former president and chief executive officer of Cotton Incorporated.
A turning point was reached with a TV commercial that aired Thanksgiving Day 1989. Hahn had contracted Richie Havens to sing a new song, with a hook that would become ingrained in the minds of millions of U.S. consumers. The award-winning advertising campaign coupled video images of everyday people exhibiting raw emotions, and backed by powerful lyrics, “…the touch, the feel of cotton, the Fabric of Our Lives.”
“Richie’s gravelly, gutsy voice gave the lyrics such drama and feeling,” says Hahn. “The commercials always ended with the trademark Seal of Cotton, which so successfully tied together the melody, lyrics, and visuals.” Today, the Seal of Cotton is one of the most-recognized trademarks in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world.
Cotton Incorporated’s wide-ranging research has delivered revolutionary improvements in cotton production and textile technology, products, and processes. From the module builder and Engineered Fiber Selection suite of software programs that leverage High Volume Instrument data, to fabric finishing technologies that improve the durability and performance of cotton apparel, Cotton Incorporated’s agricultural and textile research continues to move the needle ever forward for cotton’s efficiency and sustainability.
“We continue to design and implement research and promotion programs that strategically address an ever-changing consumer market and the cotton production supply chain,” says J. Berrye Worsham, Cotton Incorporated president and chief executive officer. “Cotton is being tested on many fronts today, and we’re committed to addressing all of them with sound science and transparency.”
Operating from their world headquarters at Cary, N.C., Cotton Incorporated also maintains an important international reach, with offices in Latin America, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and China.