Cotton Links

- My Turn -

Thinking Positive

By Earl Sears
Memphis, Tenn

It wasn’t exactly the response that a future 35-year employee of the National Cotton Council would want recorded. Regardless, family history says: “Three small boys were playing nearby while their father was looking over the new farm magazine.

“Look here, Era,” he called out to his wife. “Maybe we ought to order some of this new high yielding cotton seed.”

Before she could respond, the youngest boy blurted out: “Gollee Daddy, why would you want that stuff? The cotton we got already makes too much.”

Those who grew up in the age of horse and mule, 160 to 320 acres, one- and two-row equipment farms handled mostly by family labor, will understand my childish and negative response. However, as I now look back over many cotton years, in contrast to the negative, it seems that positive responses seem to highlight the character of this industry.

It was against my father’s nature to plow up cotton or lay out acres. He wanted to be positive and on the offensive. It would be only a few years later that an inspired group of Mississippi cotton leaders would think outside of the box and call the entire industry to a positive Beltwide response. It was called the National Cotton Council. It would work positively on matters on which the industry could agree.

The future of the industry was labeled by news media as bleak. Most suppliers had lost confidence. Supplier research on new varieties, insecticides, harvest and other farm equipment had dwindled to near insignificant levels. A positive industry program, including USDA and other cotton organizations, was launched. Held at Gadsden, Ala., it was called the Beltwide Cotton Mechanization Conference. It soon would become one of agriculture’s largest and most effective technology conferences. We now know it as the Production Conference of the annual Beltwide Cotton Conferences. Last year it attracted nearly 3,000 attendees, representing producers, ginners, allied industry and scientists.

In contrast to low confidence, cotton suppliers in those early days soon became positive partners. John Deere, International Harvester and other companies were among the first to support the Cotton Foundation. This effort led to the construction of the NCC’s original headquarters at 1918 North Parkway in Memphis. The NCC has since moved into a new facility in east Memphis.

Today the Cotton Foundation’s members continue to show remarkable leadership, demonstrated by their providing more than $1.2 million worth of annual funding for Foundation General Research and Education Projects, Foun-dation Special Projects and NCC educational projects and activities.

Obviously, cotton’s positive responses are far too numerous to list in this article. However, a recent report seems to highlight the positive nature of the industry. It saluted the Cotton Leadership program, a Cotton Foundation initiative funded by the DuPont Company. Some 250 young cotton leaders are now graduates and making their contributions to the industry because of that program. It was launched at the NCC’s fall board meeting in 1983 in Lubbock, Texas.

When I think back to that particular year, I recall it as a pretty tough season for cotton production. We only had a 7 million bale yield for the entire Belt. However, our industry was committed to that Cotton Leadership program and was determined to move forward with it. I’m glad our leaders made that commitment because we can now see the incredible dividends 25 years later.

We’ve come a long way since those early days, and I’m so thankful for all the positive things I continue to see in this great industry.

Let’s keep it going!

– Earl Sears, Memphis, Tenn.

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