Editor’s Note: The Southern Southeastern Annual Meeting will be held Jan. 18-22, 2017, at The Westin in Charlotte, N.C. This organization represents cotton growers and ginners throughout Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Every year, more than 600 participants come together to gather information and network with major industry suppliers. Cotton Farming magazine recently conducted exclusive interviews with David Dunlow, president of Southern Cotton Growers Inc., and Kent Fountain, president of Southeastern Cotton Ginners Association Inc. Here are a few of their thoughts about how the meetings will particularly interest cotton producers and ginners across the Southern Southeastern region.
Cotton Farming: The Board of Directors meetings and the State Growers and State Ginners meetings are open to everyone. Why would these meetings appeal to the region’s farmers and ginners?
Dunlow: During the Board of Directors meeting, Dr. Joe Outlaw, director of the Agriculture and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M, will discuss the effects of mega-mergers. Craig Brown, vice president of Producers Affairs, National Cotton Council, will give an issues update. Both of these presentations will help farmers be more aware of matters that may potentially affect their operations in 2017. The State Grower meetings allow cotton producers to get involved and have input in policy developed throughout the region and the nation.
Fountain: The State Ginner meetings provide an opportunity for ginners to come together to discuss issues that may be affecting their respective states. From these discussions, they can formulate ideas about how to address those concerns.
Cotton Farming: The General Session moves beyond the regional focus to the national and international arenas. Why is it important for farmers and ginners to understand the implications for cotton beyond the regional outlook?
Dunlow: Generally speaking, about 80 percent of our cotton is exported, which means we are part of a worldwide market. We compete not only with other growers in our nation but growers throughout the world. It’s important to know our competition’s cotton policies under other governments. To keep our fingers on the pulse of issues that go beyond our region, we invite speakers to talk about topics, such as the worldwide cotton market, our cotton market and development of the Farm Bill.
Fountain: Although we have a regional association, cotton is not just a regional commodity; it is a worldwide commodity. A high percentage of our product is exported so we have to know the needs and concerns of the people who are buying our cotton. For example, I recently served on a panel as a ginner at the Cotton Council International Sourcing USA Summit. Thirty-one countries were represented and more than 400 people attended, which gave me an opportunity to learn about their issues. During the General Session, we will have speakers from Washington D.C., Cotton Council International and the National Cotton Ginners who will talk about some of these same issues for the benefit of farmers and ginners who attend the Southern Southeastern meeting.
Cotton Farming: The Cotton Production and Ginning Seminar features breakout sessions specific to producers and ginners. What are some of the pertinent topics?
Dunlow: Proposed crop insurance changes on the horizon, new production technology, seed varieties and long-range weather forecasts for the upcoming growing season are some of the featured subjects.
Fountain: Of particular interest to ginners will be a presentation on contamination, which is a huge issue. We are the most contaminant-free cotton in the world and want to keep it that way. We also will have a panel discussion about the John Deere module wrap technology, including best practices to deal with it at the gin. Frank Gasparini, National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE), Washington, D.C., is on the program to talk about the status of immigration under the Trump administration. This is an important topic that affects our labor pool.
Cotton Farming: Why would you encourage farmers to sit in on Crop Insurance Options for 2017?
Dunlow: We currently are working on crop insurance changes with the Risk Management Agency (RMA) and will discuss them during this meeting. Although these changes won’t be in place for 2017, there are many options in place now that need to be considered. This session provides a forum where growers can learn what these options are. Roughly 90 percent of all cotton acres in the Southeast are covered by crop insurance. Since many of the banking institutions and other lenders require farmers to insure their crop, we should have a clear understanding of how different insurance levels work. The more information farmers have, the better able they will be to choose the right level for their operations. This meeting takes place at a good time because the deadline for purchasing 2017 crop insurance is the end of February.
Cotton Farming: What can ginners learn from the Safety/Insurance Committee meeting?
Fountain: In our industry, insurance is a huge cost and safety is an important issue. This session allows us to talk about what happened last year in our industry regarding safety. We invited insurance representatives to give reports on their industry and tell us what we need to work on to keep rates down and make sure everyone stays safe. Hearing from people who write the insurance gives us ideas for improving safety at the gin and also saving money.
Cotton Farming: What are some of the highlights of the Annual Meeting held on Saturday morning?
Dunlow: One of the topics is a report on council activities from Dr. Gary Adams, president and CEO of the National Cotton Council. I have been involved in cotton organizations for 18 years. Behind-the-scenes work carried out by the NCC, Southern Cotton Growers and even the state organizations is critical to the cotton industry. It’s important to understand what they do. In addition, we will have updates from Berrye Worsham, president and CEO of Cotton Incorporated, on its activities and Andy Warlick, president and CEO of Parkdale Mills, on the health of the U.S. textile industry. Various achievement awards will be presented during this meeting as well.
Fountain: A special presentation we all look forward to takes place during this session — the Cotton Ginner of the Year Award. One of the criteria is that the recipient must be a progressive ginner who endeavors to keep cotton strong in his community. Last year we recognized Joey Scarborough of Tallassee, Ala. He is the second manager for the Milstead Farm Group gin.
Cotton Farming: In addition to business sessions, how do the trade show and social gatherings enhance the attendees’ experience?
Dunlow: It’s important to note that the majority of the costs associated with holding the Southern Southeastern Annual Meeting are offset by contributions from our corporate sponsors. To me, the trade show, which features their products and services, is something I always look forward to. Everyone goes from booth to booth to talk to a variety of vendors and learn what’s new for the upcoming year. On Friday night, we have the Presidential Gala where members, guests and families come together to enjoy a banquet, mingle with one another and have fellowship. This event is also the biggest fundraiser for our political action committee – the Committee for the Advancement of Southeast Cotton. During the gala, a reverse raffle event is held to raise money for our PAC. We sell raffle tickets all year long and a winner is awarded that evening. It’s a lot of fun and all for a good cause.
Fountain: The trade show provides a good opportunity for vendors to showcase their offerings and for attendees to learn more about the various products and services. I also believe farmers and ginners pick up a lot of information from their peers during what I call “hallway seminars.” Sitting in on meetings triggers thoughts about issues we face in our industry. At break time, everyone gathers in the hallway to socialize and exchange ideas about the subjects that have been discussed. The Southern Southeastern Annual Meeting takes place in a setting that allows this type of social interaction and learning experience.