By Richey Seaton
Georgia Cotton Commission
Today’s world poses many challenges, particularly to those of us in agriculture. One challenge farmers face is consumer awareness. For example, were you aware that, according to the website FarmersfeedUS.org, advances in production efficiency have resulted in U.S. farmers feeding 155 people worldwide, up from 26.5 people per farmer in 1960, and agriculture employs more than 24 million American workers or 17 percent of the total U.S. work force?
Recently, the University of Georgia published a study of the economic impact of cotton production in our state. This study showed that the actual direct farm gate value of cotton is $1.5 billion. Adding the additional $1 billion from the sale of inputs and agribusiness services, the total economic contribution of cotton to Georgia’s economy is $2.5 billion. Not to be overlooked are the 15,420 jobs created in the production of cotton and related industries. These numbers reflect the important role one agricultural commodity plays in Georgia’s economy.
A misconception that non-farming individuals have is that farmers are not good environmental stewards. Farmers have a vested interest in the environment and continue to make improvements in cultural practices and productivity. Since 1980, in per-unit of production, agriculture has reduced land use by 30 percent, soil erosion by 68 percent and energy use by 31 percent. In addition, there has been a reduction of greenhouse gases by 22 percent. These advances will continue with increased use of precision agricultural management and conservation tillage practices.
Today, cotton production and agriculture are faced with challenges ranging from regulatory issues to approval and acceptance of new technologies. Many individuals who support these regulations and are not receptive to new technologies may not understand what today’s farmer and agribusiness persons are doing to achieve new levels of production, while increasing their environmental stewardship.
Speaking up and educating others is something we all must do, but where do we find the information to go about combating and rebutting the many outrageous things that are said about today’s cotton production practices? The Cotton LEADS program is an excellent source of information on what has been accomplished in reducing the environmental footprint of cotton production.
This is a program that provides and will continue to generate scientifically based information that will allow each of us to rebut these types of attacks that many times are based on inaccurate information. The Cotton LEADS program is a cooperative effort between the cotton industries of Australia and the United States. The program will focus on the accomplishments and advances of the cotton industry. The effort is built upon principles consistent with sustainability, best practices and traceability.
This will provide cotton’s customers knowledge that the product they purchase is responsibly produced and identified. The National Cotton Council, Cotton Council International and Cotton Incorporated are the principle organizations behind this effort in the United States. The Australian efforts are led by the Australian Cotton Shippers Association. The Cotton LEADS program will pay dividends in the future as we move forward and continue the gains in production efficiency and environmental stewardship.
Involvement and support of our cotton organizations is vital. As we identify challenges, the information provided by our cotton organizations is scientifically based and is a useful tool in efforts to communicate to others the benefits provided by the cotton industry. As the old saying goes, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”