Farming – cotton farming in particular – has always been a challenging business. My father began farming in 1952. I took up the challenge in 1984.
Each year we are either too dry, have too much rain or both. We have to constantly scout for insect infestations and weeds that have become resistant to our herbicides.
Commodity prices historically fail to reflect ever increasing input costs. In addition to production concerns, we have to deal with the political reality that with each election we have fewer lawmakers who understand the complex issues facing agriculture. Our federal and state regulatory agencies often seem out of step with a common sense approach to environmental issues, such as severely limiting farmers’ access to water in favor of smelt fish or withholding approval for re-registration of crop protection products vital to dealing with resistant weed management.
These are only a few of the difficulties we face each year as we return to put in another crop. And yet it is my observation that most farmers are generally optimistic about the future of agriculture in this country. Is this just blind optimism or is there justification for this?
We are finally seeing cotton prices experience the increase that other commodities have over the last couple of years. In fact, prices have risen to levels that will allow us to realize a return on investment over our costs of production as well as help retire capital debt. Will we maintain these price levels in all commodities over a sustained period? I don’t know. If I did, I would be investing and not farming. But for the time being, we have an opportunity to rotate our acreage back into cotton and strengthen the infrastructure of our industry.
However, it is not only prices that give reason for optimism. Innovations in technology and integrated pest management are providing us with the tools we need to better manage our inputs and reduce our environmental foot print. Boll weevil eradication has greatly reduced the use of insecticides while increasing yields. GPS- based systems that have been talked about for the last 20 years have become a reality. They allow us to vary our input rates, reducing our cost while targeting inputs to the areas where they will do the most good. Remote imaging and soil mapping allow us to evaluate and plan for future inputs.
Genetic engineering of varieties has increased yield potential while providing another opportunity to reduce our use of pesticides. While not without its drawbacks, the promise of new and varied herbicide-resistant traits should provide new tools to use in the ongoing management of bothersome glyphosate- resistant weeds.
New innovations in cotton harvesting will also allow farmers to reduce the requirements for manpower, fuel and equipment at a time when those resources are obviously needed elsewhere.
So much for production. We still have the “political realities” to deal with. Here, there is also reason for optimism. As new issues arise, the need to educate and inform those making policy and laws affecting agriculture has never been greater. And we’ve seen an increase in the willingness of farmers and others in our industry to become engaged.
Whether through industry groups such as the National Cotton Council and the Farm Bureau or through our political parties, we are finding individuals taking the time to become informed on the many issues affecting agriculture. In turn, they are informing those making policy and law.
The challenges of farming are still with us and perhaps greater than ever. But so are the resources and opportunities to deal with those challenges. For me, it is an exciting time to be involved in agriculture. I think we have good reason to be optimistic about the future!
– John Lindamood
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