Cotton Incorporated listens to producers in charting path for future research

By now, many farmers have reached the conclusion their opinion doesn’t count for much. You’re routinely encouraged at winter meetings and during election season to contact your representatives in Washington, D.C., and you’re asked to attend occasional “listening” sessions to let your voice be heard.

But, unfortunately, nobody seems to be listening much, or so it seems.

So it was refreshing recently to learn that someone is listening to the voice of farmers and taking immediate action on their recommendations.

In a Producer Priority Survey conducted this past spring, Cotton Incorporated asked growers directly about their concerns and issues, and where they think research priorities should be placed. While some responses were expected, others were not, pointing out the value of asking the opinion of those you serve — perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned here for those on the Beltway.

As many of you may know, Cotton Incorporated’s board of directors is made up of about 100 grower-leaders who provide a great deal of input on the direction of the organization, particularly its research priorities. But these grower-leaders also know their individual opinions might differ occasionally from those of other producers, so the decision was made to conduct a far-reaching survey that would help to gain a broad consensus for future research needs.

Kater Hake, vice-president of agricultural research for Cotton Incorporated, explains that comments were solicited from producers who grow 100 bales or more, via the Internet, and numerous postcards were mailed as a reminder of the survey.

The response rate was impressive, representing 10 percent of the U.S. cotton acreage and each of the 17 cotton-producing states.

“We wanted producers, not just random people, and we wanted their help to direct agricultural research,” says Hake.

In the first section of the survey, growers were asked an open-ended question on their major issues and concerns, “top-of-the-mind” concerns, says Hake.

In the Southeastern states, these issues were pest control, water, markets, input costs and weather.

The survey also asked growers to rank their concerns by growth period. The Beltwide results included: preplanting — variety selection, herbicide-resistant weeds; planting — variety selection, seed quality determination, seedling rate and planting date; squaring — early weed control, herbicide-resistant weeds; fruit maturation — monitoring cotton’s growth, plant growth regulators, weed control; harvest and ginning — harvest-aid materials and application timing, cottonseed value, monitoring cotton’s growth, ginning to preserve fiber; and season long — cotton’s input costs, cotton’s tolerance to heat and drought and cotton fiber quality.

The top five key issues Beltwide were cotton input costs, herbicide-resistant weeds, variety selection, cotton tolerance to heat and drought and early weed control, says Hake.

“The fact that variety selection was so highly ranked was a little surprising, probably due to the fact the turnover rate for varieties is so fast and it’s a challenge for growers to handle all of the information.”

In the Southeast specifically, herbicide-resistant weeds was No. 1 for 76 percent of respondents, input cost at No. 2 from 66 percent, variety selection was at three with 41 percent, early weed control at four with 39 percent and tolerance to heat and drought at five with 29 percent.

When the results of the survey were shared with other research managers, there was a sense of relief, says Hake, because there was so much support for the current and ongoing research efforts of Cotton Incorporated.

“We’re funding approximately 420 research projects across the Belt and over 250 at just about every institution that has scientists willing to work on cotton,” he says.

The survey was especially helpful, though, in pin-pointing areas where Cotton Incorporated can “beef up” its research efforts in 2010, he says, and plans to do this have already been put into place.

“No. 1 is input cost reduction,” he says.

“We probably haven’t done enough to tie in the farm economics with hard-core agricultural research. We’ll get our economists more involved to help growers reduce input costs. And we just can’t do enough with herbicide-resistant weeds — we’ll increase those efforts next year.”

There should be three or more tools available to farmers in 2012 to help in selecting varieties. “As far as drought and heat and water management, we’ll be beefing up those efforts dramatically. We’ve seen a lot of new irrigation in the Southeast, and we’ll look at tools that will help growers better manage their irrigation water. We’ll also look at genetics to help plants better tolerate heat and drought,” says Hake.




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