The Cotton Board is governed by its membership consisting of both cotton producers and importers. The producers on The Cotton Board represent their respective states in the U.S. Cotton Belt. The importers serving on The Cotton Board represent major U.S. brands and retailers — significant downstream cotton users. Together, these segments of the Board represent a wealth of unique perspectives and insight that help guide The Cotton Research and Promotion Program (the Program).
During its 2023 Annual Meeting, The Cotton Board elected new officers to guide the Program, including Mark Nichols to serve as chairman for the 2023/24 Program year. Nichols, a cotton producer from Altus, Oklahoma, is the president of Jess Mark Nichols Farms, Inc. and president of Hess Farms, Inc., a fourth-generation farm he has managed since 1980. He farms with his brother-in-law, son, daughter and son-in-law. They grow irrigated cotton, wheat and milo.
To help us learn more about Nichols’ thoughts on leadership in the cotton industry, he answered a few questions below.
Q: Why is it important for cotton producers to serve on The Cotton Board?
Producers serving on The Cotton Board are able to represent their state’s interests at the national level, and that means a lot to me. I’m very proud to represent Oklahoma’s cotton-growing community and have a voice to share our experiences with the staff and researchers at The Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated. The voices of the cotton producers and importers who serve on the Board offer guidance that sets the direction of the Program. Additionally, service on The Cotton Board gives me a front-row seat to see all the fantastic work that’s being done behind the scenes to increase the demand for and profitability of the cotton I grow.
Q: What have you learned from the importer members of The Cotton Board?
With most of the U.S. cotton crop being sold for export, importers drive cotton purchases in the international environment and are ultimately the customers who buy our cotton. I have learned so much by working with the importers on our Board, and it’s nice to have a partner who is also helping fund the Program. Importers help provide us clarity and direction on how our end customers’ needs are changing and help us position cotton to benefit from the positive changes and help us mitigate the negative changes. I have found it to be extremely important to learn from importers and establish relationships that keep cotton top-of-mind when they’re making their purchasing decisions.
Q: What makes you passionate about the cotton industry?
You hear a lot of people say, “cotton gets in your blood,” and that’s true. There’s just something special about the labor of love it takes to grow cotton. Cotton has provided a great life for my family, and I’ve met some of my best friends by serving in this industry. But beyond that, the U.S. cotton industry has high standards and is leading the way in production practices that will help leave the land better for future generations of cotton farmers. Through programs like the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol and emerging regenerative agriculture programs, we are on a path of continuous improvement, and I am excited to be part of that.
Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the cotton industry in 2024?
After a visit to Cotton Incorporated’s offices in Asia last year, I would say cotton traceability is quickly becoming one of the biggest issues facing our industry. Cotton traceability is the ability to track and identify the origin and journey of cotton from the point of its cultivation through to its manufacturing and distribution, and ultimately to the product. The United States leads the way in cotton traceability with a comprehensive tracking and identification system starting at the cotton gin and Permanent Bale Identification tags. Once that cotton is sold and blended in a laydown at the spinning mill where it becomes yarn, the ability to track where the cotton came from becomes much more difficult.
Traceability is such a hot topic in today’s importing climate because cotton shipments are being seized by U.S. Customs Border Patrol if it’s suspected that any of the cotton is coming from the Xin Xang Region of China where forced labor is used. Although this is a complex issue with no simple solution, the Cotton Research and Promotion Program is committed to being part of the cotton traceability solution and is funding research at every stage of the process.
To learn more about the producers and importers who serve on The Cotton Board, visit cottonboard.org/our-leadership.