Since 2010, the Importer Support Program (ISP) of the Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated has funded annual farm tours for brands and retailers as part of a concentrated effort to educate decision makers in the supply chain about cotton production.
Elizabeth King, Vice President of Importer Support for The Cotton Board said, “The ISP Committee considers these farm tours our single most effective outreach program, with the biggest return on our investment. When these supply chain decision makers actually see cotton in the field, meet the growers and witness firsthand the scope of the effort of continuous improvement, they leave as ambassadors of U.S. cotton.”
This year’s farm tours were held in October and included 59 attendees representing 31 companies, such as Carhartt, Dockers, Levi’s, Macy’s, Target and Walmart. Since the program’s inception, over 250 supply chain decision makers have attended.
On the first day, participants were taken to the Cotton Museum in Memphis, Tenn., and heard from Cotton Incorporated experts on cotton production and sustainability.
On day two, the groups traveled to Marianna, Ark., and visited the farms of Larry McClendon, Trent and Jason Felton, Ramey Stiles, Billy Hinkle and Nathan Reed. The participants were able to walk and explore the cotton field and had the unique opportunity to see how cotton looks and feels in the field. The tours take place during harvest, so participants were also able to experience riding in a cotton picker.
Next, the groups stopped at the University of Arkansas Research Station in Marianna for lunch and a presentation from Dr. Tina Teague. Teague reiterated the message of the cotton industry’s commitment to the environment and answered questions about current practices in pest and weed control. The last stop was the McClendon, Mann & Felton Gin and the company warehouse to see the final stages of cotton’s journey before the spinning mill.
To wrap up the tours, on day three, participants visited the USDA Cotton Classing Office in Memphis. They learned how cotton is graded, how high-volume instruments collect data on each bale of cotton grown in the United States and how each bale has a unique identification bar code.
“Every year, we are able to see impressions and opinions changed when key decision makers see the innovation, sustainability practices and sophisticated technology that goes into producing U.S. cotton,” said King. “Overall, the tours spark an interest in cotton and leave participants with the knowledge to feel good about using cotton in their businesses.”
The Cotton Board contributed to this article.