Sunday, July 25, 2021

Step Up

bill gillionOne of my most prized photos shows my father squatting in the middle of a cotton field with 5-inch-high plants on both sides of him. Some rows have grass under the cotton; several rows do not.

It was his first demonstration with spraying herbicide under the plants, and he could not have been more pleased. He and I shared a deep dislike of the hoe. That herbicide was the much-preferred tool.

The emotional link for me is my father, a young farmer, right in the middle of his element. The broader takeaway is a sense of progress and seeking a better way. My father always sought a better way.

For him, that better way meant knowing what he was doing. He knew the land, and in our region, each 20-acre field was probably different than the 20 acres right across the creek. Each field required different nutrients, unique water management practices, and varying crops for him to squeeze the most out of every acre.

Before computers, precision agriculture, automated systems and electronic cotton warehouse receipts were ledger books — stacks of ledger books. My father kept meticulous records, usually in pencil, field by field. During harvest season, he copied bale-by-bale records by hand from printed warehouse receipts and classing documents. He wasn’t unique in this. Every good farmer kept good records.

Jumping forward a bit to the mid-1980s, after DDT and after the Silent Spring, I saw firsthand the gap between an environmentalist’s perception of farming and a farmer’s perception of environmentalists. It was pretty obvious to me then, and it is even more apparent 40 years later, that the perceived war between these groups stems from a lack of understanding, a lack of data and a stunning lack of perspective.

Now, after decades of wishing the world would appreciate modern agriculture and respect the efforts farmers make to grow crops with ever more sustainable practices, U.S. cotton farmers have an option to deliver the message loud and clear. They have a tool that can collate, demonstrate and advocate about modern agriculture.

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol finally gives every farmer I have ever talked to what they have asked for — the opportunity to tell their story so that the non-producing world will listen.

We have it. We have a tool. Just like a 9/16-inch wrench on a 9/16-inch nut — this tool can do the job IF we pull it out of the toolbox, put it on the nut and turn. The decision to use this tool should not be hard.

Compared to my father meticulously writing down inputs, outputs, bale weights and classing data for each bale in pencil in those ledger books, one or two hours to sign up online each year doesn’t seem like much of a burden. The two hours each cotton producer devotes to this process, combined with two hours of information from every other U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol cotton producer, can help answer the sustainability questions for the cotton industry.

This effort can provide information to direct more effective production research, and it will help sell U.S. cotton to brands, retailers and consumers across the globe.

Cotton growers do not have to pay to join the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. For the individual grower, it is cheaper than that 9/16-inch wrench, and it will turn a lot more bolts and open a lot more doors. It just takes the investment of a little time.

Will we step up and make the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol a helpful tool for U.S. cotton producers?

I know what my father’s answer would have been. There is no new tool, no new method of production that will do any good whatsoever if we do not take the time to use it. The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is another evolutionary tool for producing and marketing cotton. It only takes a couple of hours.

— Bill Gillon
Germantown, Tenneessee
bgillon@cottonboard.org

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