Of all the farmers I've interviewed in my 22 years with Farm Press, Kenneth Hood may have been the most cooperative.
A few years ago, Hood sat for three hours, explaining a complicated research project on ultra-narrow-row cotton. He acted as if he had all the time in the world, when I knew he didn't.
I'm sure he was just as cooperative when the Wall Street Journal's Scott Kilman came to his farm near Gunnison, Miss., in early June to interview him about the new farm bill and its impact on the Delta.
And no one was probably more surprised than Hood when the article written by Kilman and the Journal's Roger Thurow accused him of being responsible for the near-collapse of the economy in the West African country of Mali and the impoverishment of its farmers.
Hood said he started getting a bad feeling when he called Kilman the Saturday before the article was published on June 26.
“Scott had promised to send me a copy of the article before it appeared,” said Hood. “When I called, he said the article was on his editor's desk, and that another editor was helping him co-write it. That's when I started getting bad vibes.”
Kilman spent most of a day talking with Hood and touring the land Hood farms with his brothers, Curtis, Howard and Cary, in western Bolivar County. (Kilman also interviewed Ed Hester, who farms cotton, rice, soybeans and grain sorghum in southern Bolivar County.)
“I really think that Scott got waylaid on this,” said Hood, who is chairman of the National Cotton Council. “I don't agree with everything in the part he must have written, but I think Thurow was responsible for most of the article.”
In it, the authors contend that the cotton provisions of the U.S. farm bill have caused a severe drop in cotton prices in countries like Mali, leading to economic hardship and the potential for unrest among its mainly Muslim population.
The authors contrast the plight of a 22-year-old Mali farmer trying to feed and clothe his family with an ox-drawn plow and 15 acres of cotton with Hood's 12 $125,000 Case-IH tractors and 10,000 acres.
In a response posted on its Web site, the National Cotton Council ridiculed the article as incomplete and inaccurate in its depiction of the marketing system for West African growers.
The facts, it said, are that cotton prices are lower in most West African countries because of the extraordinary export taxes collected by their governments. It also noted that higher prices in the spring of 2001 and good weather had more to do with this year's lower prices than U.S. farm policy.
Hood said Kilman has promised the Journal will print a response. Although reluctant to get into a contest with the newspaper, Hood said he would probably accept, a decision cotton farmers will applaud.
What's at stake here is not just pointing out inaccuracies in an article, but protecting us from urban writers who would destroy a vital part of their country's economy so that someone in West Africa can grow a few more pounds of cotton.