A conversation with Buzz Cooper and Shawn HolladayEditors note – Ginner Buzz Cooper and producer Shawn Holladay know the importance of industry organizations working together for the betterment of U.S. cotton. Holladay is president of Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., while Cooper is president of the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association. In this interview with Cotton Farming, they address key issues confronting the Texas cotton industry as well as the entire Belt.
As ginners, it’s our responsibility to help maintain that quality throughout the ginning process.” -Buzz Cooper, Ginner, Lubbock and Lynn counties, Texas
Is it safe to say that the worst part of the drought has finally ended in Texas?
Cooper – Here on the High Plains, the rains we’ve had certainly are a start, but as far as the drought being over, I don’t think so. Other parts of Texas, especially south, are a little wetter, which is good. Up here, we’re in decent to good shape in some areas, while others are still pretty dry.
Holladay – I think we’re in better shape than we’ve been in a long time, but we started at such a deficit that we’ll need to have timely rains throughout the summer to make it impact the crop.
What areas are still feeling the effects of the drought?
Cooper – From what I’m hearing, the affected areas are near the New Mexico state line and up in the northern parts of the Panhandle. But really, we’re all still feeling the effects of the drought. It will take some time to recover from the last three years, and that’s assuming it keeps raining.
Holladay – Our soil moisture is very good where I farm south of Lubbock. In fact, that whole southern region has had a pretty wet winter so far. However, the rain didn’t start until September, which was way too late to have a positive impact on production for 2014.
How are you dealing with cotton’s current low prices?
Cooper – Our producers are trying to figure out a way to cut costs, hoping and praying the rains are saving money on pre-watering. Cotton’s certainly what we want to grow, and what works best, but we have to be realistic, and some of our producers may consider temporarily diversifying more to help mitigate these low prices.
Holladay – All options are on the table. All of our variable costs are cut to the lowest level, which brings up the question of fixed costs and how to cut from those. It’s a tightrope act when you start looking at what you can cut that won’t affect production, because the only way we can make any money in West Texas in cotton is to outproduce the price.
Do you think U.S. cotton is gradually recapturing markets?
Cooper – It’s a given that the export markets are critical to U.S. cotton production because of our lack of textile infrastructure. But here in Texas and across the Cotton Belt, we know that’s where our markets are, and we have to continue to do everything we can to improve our product. Whether it’s bale packaging or the quality of the fiber, we have to do everything we can to maintain that reputation.
Holladay – Quality cotton is the key. If you look at export markets, every time we get down in the 50-cent range, we start increasing exports. These mills are looking for quality cotton, and we have made such tremendous strides in research, especially over the past decade. I am confident that we can continue to produce the kind of cotton the world has come to expect from the United States.
How difficult has it been to educate producers and ginners about the new farm law?
Cooper – Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association has partnered with other entities such as Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, the National Cotton Council and Plains Cotton Growers to host workshops and meetings regarding the 2014 Farm Bill. But there’s not a morning that goes by without someone in the gin office mentioning it.
Holladay – Crop insurance will be key, and producers need to consider those decisions in addition to the ones surrounding the Farm Bill itself. The one thing I’d tell people is not to wait until the last minute.
Do you agree that overseas mills still want U.S. cotton quality?
Cooper – Certainly they do. As ginners, it’s our responsibility to help maintain that quality throughout the ginning process. Our bale packaging ensures that as the cotton is delivered to its final destination.
Holladay – Sure they do. They’ve come to expect it from us, and we’ve delivered on not only that, but also with the creditworthiness of our U.S. merchants, packaging standards, reduced contamination and a whole host of other factors that play into quality cotton.
What other issues will directly or indirectly affect Texas cotton?
Cooper – Our gins have seen an increase in OSHA inspections. Thanks to the excellent relationships developed through the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association, we work well with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Labor also is an issue. Our increased oil field activity over the past few years has hurt a lot of gins. My ginning costs make it to where I cannot compete with what these workers can make in the oil field.
Holladay – Two of our main issues right now are resistant weeds and banking. We have to continue our attack on resistant weeds by mixing modes of action and doing whatever we can to stop them from spreading. As for banking, the producer’s relationship with his banker may have the biggest impact over the next few years. In the current Farm Bill when it comes to cotton and where prices appear to be headed, it just doesn’t cash flow. We don’t have any price support whatsoever, other than the loan program, which is well below the cost of production. So, in times of low prices, cotton farmers, compared to other commodities that do have price support systems, have a much more difficult time when they’re trying to bank their operations. However, much of our area is cotton-specific. We don’t have the other options for crops. We’re cotton farmers, and our infrastructure is built as such.
Is new technology the solution to cotton’s future health?
Cooper – Technology in ginning continues to evolve, and that’s definitely a positive for the industry. It’s helped keep us in business. Automation in ginning has been huge, especially in the drying systems now. These control systems have made a huge difference. We have seen improved quality preservation. Years ago, everybody had four guys to a press, ginning 10 to 12 bales an hour. Today, we’re ginning 60 bales with three workers.
Holladay – I think new technology, if it’s affordable through production, definitely will be cotton’s future. We would not be where we are today without research and development.
I am confident that we can continue to produce the kind of cotton the world has come to expect from the United States.” – Shawn Holladay, Producer, Lamesa, Texas
If you had one message to deliver to the rest of the Cotton Belt, what would it be?
Cooper – The cotton family is small but powerful. We have to work across the Cotton Belt to put our best foot forward. Texas may grow the most cotton, but to be considered a national commodity we need everyone from all the states working together. That’s especially critical on the ginning side.
Holladay – It’s extremely important that we make every effort to keep our grower organizations from the national to the state to the local level as strong as we possibly can. While we all have to do what’s best for our individual operations, every producer should ask himself if he has done his part in ensuring we have the tools to advance our cause for cotton. If all those things don’t get better, if we don’t stay strong, if we don’t get better at supporting those organizations, we’ll be in trouble because cotton from a national perspective is not that big, and we can’t afford for it to get any smaller.