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Cotton’s Future Hinges On Technology

By Tommy Horton

Regardless of politics or global events, one fact remains clear for U.S. cotton. Technology will be the key to the industry’s future health and survival.

That was a major theme of Cotton Incorporated’s Engineered Fiber Selection System Conference (EFS) conducted recently at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tenn.

Setting the tone for the two-day meeting was Mike Watson, Cotton Incorporated’s vice president of fiber competition, who claims that because of “razor-thin” margins on the farm and at the mill, new technologies must be embraced.

“Every time we think we’re reaching the edge of something in technology, there is still another frontier ahead of us,” he says. “It’s just amazing what I see and learn when I visit cotton research laboratories.”

Watson’s comments were appropriate since the theme of this year’s conference was “Sustaining Cotton’s Competitiveness.” Nearly every speaker touched on that theme and spoke of the need for U.S. cotton to take advantage of technology to stay competitive in the global market.

Making Technology Work

One of the topics that Watson alluded to that has potential application to U.S. cotton’s future is the use of medical technology to evaluate certain kinds of cotton fiber qualities.

“We can do that,” he adds. “We can’t do it today, but we know that the technology is out there. The challenge for us is how we can do this quickly and in an effective manner.”

To illustrate his point more clearly, Watson asked the audience to envision what takes place when a hospital patient has an MRI procedure to pinpoint the source of an illness. That same approach, he says, can be applied in evaluating cotton fiber properties.

Other speakers also touched on the sustainability topic from different angles in their presentations.

Ed Barnes, director of ag research at Cotton Incorporated, offered a rebuttal to many of the claims from environmental groups about cotton’s impact on the land.

He says cotton production in the United States is using less chemicals, which translates into a lower impact on natural resources, less toxicity and reduced inputs.

“The bottom line is that we’re producing more cotton and using less energy,” Barnes says. “We have a lot of good stories to tell with regard to how the environment is being affected. I think that’s a significant fact.

“It also invalidates some of the ridiculous claims that are being made against cotton.”

Keeping Cotton Profitable

One of the most dramatic reports given to EFS attendees was one from Mississippi producer Kenneth Hood. He gave an overview of his own farming operation and offered a detailed analysis of farm expenditures.

Hood, a longtime proponent of precision agriculture, says the only way he can farm profitably is by utilizing all forms of technology – from variable rate applications to his Case IH on-board module-picker.

“When you add in all of the increased costs we’re facing, we have no choice but to adopt technology,” says Hood.

The Mississippi producer also noted the economic impact that cotton has on his community compared to other crops such as corn.

Hood says it’s important that cotton’s infrastructure remain strong for that very reason. Gins, warehouses and other businesses depend on cotton and its effect on agri-business in the Mississippi Delta.

“By my calculations, cotton turns over seven times in my area whereas corn and other crops don’t have nearly that kind of impact,” he says.

Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or thorton@onegrower.com. For more information on other presentations given at the EFS conference, go to www.cottoninc.com.


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