• By Brad Robb •
South Carolina cotton producer Rusty Darby understands what negative impacts the U.S. trade war with China and the global pandemic continue to have on world cotton demand. Therefore, he assumed his role as the new president of Southern Cotton Growers Inc. with a proactive mindset and a long-term vision.
Darby’s tenure on national and regional cotton organization boards has honed his perspectives on issues facing U.S. cotton producers.
“Our domestic cotton industry is encountering adversity like we have not seen since the boll weevil,” he says. “Cotton sales to our largest customer, China, were starting to trend up, but this pandemic has not only shuttered consumers, it has stalled supply chains. Now is the time to plan strategically for the future.”
Darby told David Ruppenicker, CEO of the Dawsonville, Georgia-based cotton association, he wants to strengthen the organization’s service to its members and its efforts to influence cotton policy on their behalf.
At the January annual meeting, Darby and Ruppenicker received board approval to contract with an outside agency to create an organizational evaluation survey. Its purpose is to gather input from member constituents across Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
“Those farmers pay assessments to this organization,” Darby says. “We want them to know how we are investing those funds to influence domestic cotton policy on their behalf and increase world cotton demand through our support of Cotton Council International. This survey will let them share opinions or concerns and broaden SCG communication channels moving forward.”
Ruppenicker says, “As the overseas promotion arm of the National Cotton Council, CCI’s work is essential to the development of international demand for U.S. cotton. Their marketing programs continue paying dividends to our industry.”
One of SCG’s messages touts U.S. cotton’s sustainability efforts.
U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol
Darby is South Carolina’s member on The Cotton Board, composed of cotton producers and cotton importers.
“Importers work for brands and retailers like Wrangler, American Eagle, Target and Walmart that import cotton apparel and products into the United States,” he says. “Consumers today want products that are sustainable, traceable and produced responsibly.
The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, created through the National Cotton Council, is a volunteer program allowing U.S. producers to highlight their farm’s sustainability achievements and have them shared with cotton buyers and customers across the world.
“Grower involvement isn’t just necessary, it’s critical as companies and their shareholders continue basing their cotton buying decisions on corporate environmental and social responsibility goals and requirements. All farms are different, but all farmers need to highlight their own track record of sustainability success by enrolling in the program at www.trustuscotton.org.”
A board of governance that represents all industry segments has established sustainability goals. These include measured increases in production and irrigation efficiencies, and reductions in greenhouse gases, carbon, soil loss and energy use collectively across all U.S. cotton farming operations by 2025. Darby understands some farmers may be hesitant to share specific details of their operations and production practices.
“They have to move past those concerns and enroll in the program to continue our strength of a unified industry voice that has been a linchpin to our success for so long,” he says. “The U.S. producer segment must be responsive to this program or risk being left behind.”
Positive Outlook For Cotton’s Future
April 25 was Darby’s target date to plant cotton if soil temperatures were warm enough. As much as it hurts, he is decreasing his cotton acres this year and will double crop an alternative crop after the wheat harvest.
“I have a family will dating back to 1820 verifying cotton was produced on this farm,” he says. “I look forward to working with the SCG board and staff to capitalize on future opportunities for cotton as we move past these times of uncertainty in health and world cotton trade.”
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Freelance writer Brad Robb submitted this article on behalf of Southern Cotton Growers Inc.