EDITOR’S NOTE – Ginner Dan Jackson and producer Craig Heinrich have played key roles in Texas cotton industry issues during the past year. Jackson is president of the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association. Heinrich is president of Plains Cotton Growers, Inc. In this interview with Cotton Farming, they discuss a wide range of topics as planting season approaches.
What are the major issues confronting the Texas cotton industry in 2013?
Heinrich: We have several major issues at this point. The first one would be the process of getting a long-term farm policy in place. PCG is working with the National Cotton Council, the Southwest Council of Agribusiness and Combest, Sell & Associates to ensure the best interest of cotton producers. Secondly, we are still facing the effects of a continuing drought. Another issue concerns cotton contract disputes and the process of arbitration to resolve them. Producers should be able to sign a contract with a merchant and know that if a dispute does arise, and they go to arbitration, that both sides are fairly represented in the process.
Jackson: I’d have to say that the drought and lack of a Farm Bill are the two biggest issues that we are facing in Texas. No matter what else is out there, everything comes back to these issues. They affect everything that we do.
How can farmers be even more efficient in water usage during the crop season?
Heinrich: Farmers are the ultimate conservationists. For a long time, we’ve been researching and implementing ways to conserve water. Some choose to concentrate their water on less acreage to maximize the opportunity for a higher yield. Many have installed drip irrigation systems to be more efficient with how their water is applied. Some continue to look at ways to improve their pivot systems (i.e. LEPA). And still others are looking at ways to change their cropping systems, which could benefit not only in water usage, but also in yield over the long term.
Jackson: Our producers are using crop rotation, as well as drip irrigation. They are already doing an excellent job at conserving water, and I’m confident they’ll continue to be that way as we look to the future.
How can Texas producers and ginners continue to show resiliency in dealing with problems such as droughts?
Heinrich: As eternal optimists, we hope this early rain will set a pattern for the rest of the year. As realists, we have to be prepared for another year with below-average rainfall. The best thing we can do is to strive for a healthy balance between the two attitudes. Faith drives us to even plant a crop in any given year, and over the course of the year, hope sustains us as we work toward a successful harvest.
Jackson: This is our livelihood. Producers and ginners know that agriculture is nothing if cyclical. Production agriculture has always been that way. We just have to work together to get through the tough times.
We know that grain crops may capture more acreage in Texas in 2013. Will this be a significant increase, and how will such a trend affect cotton acreage?
Heinrich: We certainly expect an increase in grain crops, but we don’t expect to see a dramatic increase here on the High Plains. As producers, we take many factors into account before we plant a crop, and there’s still a lot of time for some of those factors to change enough to influence our planting decisions. Take price, for example. As of this writing, cotton prices have shown an upward trend, while grain prices have trended downward, potentially shifting acreage back to cotton. This could be the beginning of a more permanent rotation between grains and cotton, and although we are predominantly cotton, integrating some grain acreage will benefit our cotton yields in the future.
Jackson: Yes, in our area that’s the talk. How much of an acreage shift might occur won’t actually be decided until closer to planting time. The cotton market has come back,so hopefully we will see it balance out.
Was the one-year extension of the Farm Bill a disappointment to you?
Heinrich: I was disappointed that Congress could not pass a five-year Farm Bill, knowing that the agricultural industry needed those assurances so desperately, especially in the middle of this unprecedented drought. I appreciate the work the House and Senate Ag Committees did to craft a bill that would benefit agriculture. Unfortunately, we failed to see it come to fruition, so it’s good to at least have a one-year extension so that we can make plans for the 2013 crop. However, as for long-range planning, we are limited on the decisions we can make for the future, so that’s why getting a five-year bill in place as soon as possible is critical.
Jackson: Yes, it was a disappointment, but with the current climate in Washington, it could be a blessing. Hopefully, we’ll see a bipartisan effort between the House and Senate Ag Committees to work toward a meaningful Farm Bill. Then they can work together to bring it to fruition. For our producers, the extension does let them work out their financing for this year, but there are questions about what will be funded, and what happens on Sept. 30 when the extension ends.
Is it encouraging that allied industries continue to invest in research and technology for cotton?
Heinrich: Absolutely, it is encouraging to see new research and technology to increase yield and quality, ensuring that our cotton is among the most marketable in the world. As I mentioned before, we face many challenges as producers, and these advances in technology help us tackle everything from insects to weed resistance that we haven’t dealt with before, and even Mother Nature to a degree.
Jackson: It’s very encouraging. Technology continues to evolve at the gin. We have iPhone apps that allow us to monitor the gin. The control consoles inside the gin have touchscreens that look like something out of Star Trek and allow better monitoring of equipment. The advent of new technology like Signode’s new bale handling system will change how we handle cotton bales in the future. And there will be many more changes. It’s an exciting time to be in
If cotton prices were to inch into the mid or high 80-cent range, how much of a positive signal would it be?
Heinrich: In general, it’s a positive signal that the demand for cotton apparently is still strong, even with carryover stocks at high levels worldwide. As producers, we would hope to secure at least a portion of our production at that price level, which would help us get a net return above the rising cost of production.
Jackson: It would be huge if we saw that kind of price increase. It could affect planting decisions in a big way as we move toward ginning season.
How have all of the Texas cotton industry organizations managed to communicate so well with each other through the years?
Heinrich: Organizations such as the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association and the nine cotton producer organizations (including Plains Cotton Growers) that make up the Texas Cotton Producers are key to bringing the industry together. Good communication is vital to accomplishing our shared goals and tackling issues throughout the state. Technology has enabled us to communicate more efficiently, which helps us address these issues in a timelier fashion.
Jackson: We all work together well and form coalitions when possible to address issues that come up. We as ginners are lucky to have TCGA to represent us, and the producers have Plains Cotton Growers (PCG), Rolling Plains Cotton Growers (RPCG) and Lamesa Cotton Growers (LCG) and others that work for them. And luckily for all of us, they work together well.
How important has Rep. Mike Conaway’s presence on the House Ag Committee been for the Texas cotton industry?
Heinrich: Rep. Conaway has been a true champion for the Texas cotton industry. His leadership is unparalleled when it comes to being on the front lines for defending production agriculture. We greatly appreciate his tireless dedication and continual efforts to advocate for Texas agriculture on farm policy, helping ensure that the High Plains cotton industry remains stable. We look forward to continuing to work with him on the new Farm Bill and all issuesfacing cotton.
Jackson: Rep. Conaway’s value to us is incalculable. He is a true friend to cotton and agriculture overall. Most importantly, he articulates in a very clear way why ag policy is important to his colleagues on Capitol Hill.
Is it hard to implement new cotton technologies for production and ginning?
Heinrich: It’s not hard to adopt and implement new technologies, but sometimes it’s better to incorporate them gradually. Whether it’s on the farm or at the gin, we have to balance our needs with our wants so we can be profitable. However, when new technology can help reshape the future of agriculture, we always want our industry to be ready to adapt and willing to embrace technologies that will improve productivity.
Jackson: It can cause some heartburn, but our industry has always been quick to adapt and overcome.
Will Texas producers continue to use different forms of irrigation to protect their water supplies?
Heinrich: Protecting our water supply is crucial to sustaining irrigated production in Texas and especially on the High Plains, so we certainly will explore every opportunity to improve our irrigation efficiency. Changing irrigation practices can be quite an investment, but the investment is worth it to ensure the effective use of our water for years to come.
Jackson: Our folks have embraced drip irrigation and continue to use best practices to protect our most precious resource – water.
If you had to convey a message to all Texas producers and ginners right now, what would it be?
Heinrich: It’s more important now than ever for all of us to continue to work together on issues that are in front of us now and those we will face in the future. As Texas grows in population, we must remain diligent in our efforts to advocate and educate as the number of people directly involved in agriculture continues to shrink.
Jackson: My message would be very simple and direct. Working together as an industry is definitely the key to our collective future.
• Manager of Meadow Farmers Co-op Gin in Meadow, Texas.
• Graduate of Lubbock Christian University.
• Second generation ginner.
• Parents worked in industry for 40 years.
• Wife Michele. Daughters Kylee and Emma.
• President of Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association.
• Third generation producer.
• Farms 5,000 acres in Slaton, Texas.
• Acreage is half dryland, half irrigated.
• Has been farming for 25 years.
• Studied agronomy at Texas Tech.
• Wife Melinda. Two children – Emily and Holt.
• President of Plains Cotton Growers, Inc.
Does it give Texas cotton producers and ginners a sense of pride knowing that half of the cotton planted in the United States is in your state?
Heinrich: The Texas High Plains usually produces at least 25 percent of the nation’s crop, and our focus is on consistently growing the high-quality cotton that mills worldwide have come to expect. That does give us a tremendous sense of pride in the job we’re doing. This year, with significant acreage reductions occurring in other parts of the Cotton Belt, the pressure will be greater on those of us who will plant the bulk of the 2013 cotton crop. Given the unique challenges that we face in our area and across the state, we know that more attention will be on Texas throughout the growing season, and we hope that Mother Nature will help us achieve the results upon which our textile customers have come to depend.
Jackson: Yes sir! We have the best producers in the world, and the ginners in Texas take great pride in the job we do for these producers. There is simply no other way to describe it.