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- Q&A -

Research, Technology:
Keys To Cotton’s Future


EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Ellis, former Mid-South bioscience research and development specialist with Bayer CropScience in Leland, Miss., is the new director of research at Agricenter International in Memphis, Tenn. In this interview with Cotton Farming, he talks about his new job and how research and technology will affect the future of U.S. cotton production.

What was the transition like going from Bayer to Agricenter International?

It’s been an interesting change. Although I did work for a big company at Bayer, I’m dealing with fewer people here at the Agricenter from a staff standpoint. Having said that, I am also working with cooperators and more folks who have an interest in the actual research that we’re doing at the Agricenter. This is an unusual facility being right in the middle of a city. That is what makes it unique.

What makes this job so different from others in the industry?

I’ve only been on the job for a few months, but everybody I have talked to is very high on the potential of the Agricenter. That’s one of the reasons why I took the job. I saw an opportunity for us to upgrade our commitment to research. We’ve purchased a new planter and are in the process of buying a combine. John Deere also donated a tractor for us to use in research. And I can’t forget the loyal support we receive from Case New Holland.

How is the focus of the Agricenter changing as it looks to the future?

For many years, most outsiders thought we only did cotton research here. And that will still be an important focus. But we will also reflect the changes that are occurring in the industry, and that’s why we’ll do research on other crops like corn and soybeans. Recently, Monsanto even came to us to start a canola research project. We also are looking at bio-energy projects, and that’s particularly exciting since it has become such a hot topic lately in agriculture.

With acreage shifts occurring in farming today, how important is it for research to reflect those trends?

If you talk to other research facilities – whether it is in universities or the private sector – I think you’ll see that everybody is trying to be more diverse. We can’t confine ourselves to just one commodity. We need to be proactive in doing research across a broad range of crops. We definitely have to be flexible in what we do.

What kind of research will be done at the Agricenter that will ultimately benefit cotton farmers across the Belt?

This is a large facility, and we have the expertise to do any kind of research in cotton – whether it’s conventional research or the newer traits that will be coming out in the near future. When Monsanto, Dow and Bayer release those traits, we will be very involved in that kind of research. We have enough acreage to do controlled research where we can watch it on a daily basis.

Are there other kinds of cotton research that will be conducted?

We have enough diversity in soil types to study a lot of different things even in weed research. I wouldn’t think we could do something like studying resistant pigweed. That would be more appropriate for university research. We do have some acreage at our station where we could sequester an area and conduct special research.

As for the future, what do you hope to accomplish at the Agricenter?

Some of my goals were actually started by my predecessors, Jamie Jenkins and John Bradley. Both of them wanted our research to be more diverse, and I think we’ll continue that strategy. I also think I’ll be very hands-on when it comes to the turn-key research.

What do the seed companies want to do at the Agricenter?

That’s been a positive situation. They don’t necessarily want to come in and do cotton breeding. Even though this is a year where we won’t have a major field event for the Agricenter, we’ve heard from 12 different seed companies that want to do several variety demonstration events.

Is there anything that makes the Agricenter unique and different from other research stations in the Cotton Belt?

When you have a facility right in the middle of a major agricultural region like the Mid-South, it’s definitely a plus. We’re only a few minutes from Memphis International Airport, and there are so many companies that have district offices here. When you add up all of these factors, it gives us a real competitive edge.

Can the Agricenter be even more of a complement to ongoing university research conducted in cotton production?

I’ve talked to some of my colleagues at LSU and Mississippi State, and that’s exactly what I would like to see us do here. We need to do more regional research and be involved in that kind of effort. For example, I’ve talked to Kater Hake at Cotton Incorporated about being involved in these kinds of projects. I don’t want us to bite off more than we can chew in this first year, but it’s something we can pursue.

If you had to give cotton producers across the Belt a message about how research will help them in the future, what would it be?

Even with the shrinking acreage for cotton, there is a strong commitment to this commodity from all the major companies. I still see a lot of interest in cotton, and I think we’ll pick up some additional acres in the next couple of years. The major companies are spending millions of dollars on new traits whether it be weed or insect control or quality. And that’s why our potential for cotton research here at the Agricenter is unlimited. Technology has always given U.S. cotton producers a clear advantage over their global competitors on so many levels. I don’t see that trend changing anytime soon. That’s pretty exciting when you think about it.

Contact Jeff Ellis at Agricenter International in Memphis, Tenn., at jellis@agricenter.org or
(901) 757-7754.

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