A Conversation With Louisiana Cotton Consultant Dr. Rogers Leonard
The working relationship between cotton farmers and their consultants is based, in large part, on mutual respect and trust.
Dr. Rogers Leonard, who operates Integrated Crop Consulting LLC in St. Joseph, Louisiana, said, “It’s a very professional relationship from the standpoint that consultants provide technical services in the form of production and pest management recommendations.
“But I will temper that by saying it’s professional, but there is a lot of personal relationship building as well. An example is that many times when you want to relay information, you stop by the farmer’s home, so you have a chance to meet their family. And to further that, many of the successful cotton producers have consultants who have been with them for many years.”
After considering the synergy that emanates from this business/personal relationship between cotton farmers and their consultants, it makes sense that consultants can now assist their farmers in enrolling in the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.
For those not familiar with the initiative, here is some background information about the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol:
Launched in 2020, the Trust Protocol’s mission is to bring quantifiable and verifiable goals and measurement to the key sustainability metrics of U.S. cotton production with a vision where transparency is a reality and continuous improvement of our environmental footprint is the central goal.
The Trust Protocol is an industry-wide initiative to promote U.S. cotton to brands and retailers as a sustainable fiber produced by growers who strive for continuous improvement.
At a crucial time for the U.S. cotton industry, the Trust Protocol helps U.S. growers document and showcase their land management and environmental stewardship practices while helping them achieve continuous improvement related to certain environmental sustainability measurements.
Each participating grower commits to documenting and tracking their progress toward improving soil carbon health while seeking year over year reductions in soil erosion, overall land use, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Leonard recently sat down with Cotton Farming magazine to talk about the Trust Protocol and the important role consultants play in helping their farmer clients enroll in the program. He shares his thoughts in this interview with Cotton Farming Editor Carroll Smith.
Q: If one of your cotton farmers asks you to assist them in enrolling in the Trust Protocol, what needs to happen to help this process go smoothly?
The first thing the grower needs to do is visit trustuscotton.org. That is the general website for retrieving information to sign up, to enter information and to approve any information that has been entered.
At that point, the farmer can sign up and go through the process to approve their consultant to enter information for them. I would urge the farmer and the consultant to get together, contact the help desk, which is firstname.lastname@example.org, and ask for a written copy of the survey. Then they will know exactly what information is going to be requested prior to them sitting down at a computer screen to enter it.
That’s very important because most of our growers are busy and have a lot of things going on. When they get to a pinch point — a question they can’t answer — they tend to back out of the program and forget about it. That’s another value of the consultant. They can help walk the farmer through it, and the consultant may have the answer to that question on the tip of their tongue and be able to take care of it immediately. There are some pinch points you can get over rather quickly just by seeing the survey ahead of time and knowing what those questions are.
I believe allowing the consultants to help enter a portion of this information for our cotton producers will improve the efficiency of the enrollment process.
Q: Can you provide more detail about “improving the efficiency” by allowing the consultant to participate?
From the consultant’s standpoint, going back to the fact that they are the technical services provider, many of the questions in the survey for the Trust Protocol have to do with those recommendations being put forth from the consultant. Many of those recommendations are science based; they are proven; and the consultant has a very clear record of those recommendations. So, the consultant can assist the farmer in answering many of those questions.
I’ve taken the survey. I have gone through the entire process and by my estimate, a strong consultant who works very closely with the producer in all phases of cotton production can probably answer 70% to 80% of the questions that are put forth in the Trust Protocol.
The consultant can’t answer all the questions, so the farmer has to be present for at least part of the process. To me, the neat thing is that the Trust Protocol has gone above and beyond to protect the individual information of that grower. The process is that the grower must approve anything that the consultant does. They don’t have total access to the farmer’s information unless the farmer approves that on the front end and then again on the back end.
Q: In your opinion, what value does the Trust Protocol provide for U.S. cotton farmers?
I am excited about the Trust Protocol because it is a strong move for sustainability. We all know that in today’s households the word sustainability has become very common. For example, when consumers go to the store today, they are looking for sustainable goods whether it is food or clothing. So, sustainability is very important.
For the cotton industry, this is an opportunity to stand up to the plate and begin to control a little bit of their own destiny. By participating in the Trust Protocol and showing you are employing sustainable practices, you are going above and beyond many of the cotton producers around the world.
The United States is already recognized for great cotton quality, but we have to be able to document that now at the farm level with individual practices. The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol brings that level of value to the individual producer. The hope in the future is that this value will translate into a much better return on their investment.
Q: Once enrolled in the Trust Protocol, can farmers and their consultants compare their sustainability efforts from one year to the next?
Yes. That is another part of the value of this program. It’s somewhat of a living document. The producer can see where they are on this scale of sustainability. You’re not always going to be at 80%, and the first year you’re not going to be at 100%. There is always room for improvement.
Another value is that the Trust Protocol is integrated with the FieldPrint Calculator platform from Field to Market. That program generates information that growers can use to compare their results to others in their area or even on a national level. However, the information is anonymous. There are no names associated with it. It’s all aggregated.
After seeing where they stand on the sustainability scale, the farmer can see that tweaking a particular practice a little bit can improve the efficiency of the operation. That’s what this is all about. Documenting what we are doing to demonstrate sustainability and determining how we can continue to improve so U.S. cotton can stay ahead of the rest of the world.