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Column: If industry is to survive, it needs to ‘Cotton up’

Ag journalists cover a lot of after-dinner speeches. But, every once in a while, you hear one that gives you something more than the roast beef and green beans to chew on. That was the case with a recent speech by California Cotton Growers Association President Earl Williams.

Williams, a native of Proctor, Ark., whose parents moved to California, took the title of his speech, “Cotton Up or Cotton Out,” from an expression he learned when he went to Cal Poly, a school famous for its rodeo teams.

“When things get tough, and they get in that bucking chute and get strapped on, and all their friends are patting them on the back and shouting encouragement, they tell them to ‘Cowboy up,’” Williams said. “I think that with the challenges we face today, we need to have something we can use to shout some encouragement to all the different folks in our industry.”

Cotton industry members should “start patting one another on the back and reminding each other that we have an industry worth fighting for,” he said. “We’re all under stress, we’re all under attack, and we’ve got to Cotton Up. We need to restore the pride that we had in this industry.”

Williams’ remarks seemed particularly appropriate for a state whose cotton acreage has declined from 1,175,000 in 1994 to 667,000 last season. California could be down to 550,000 acres in 2006, split evenly between 275,000 acres of upland and 275,000 of Pima.

Challenges are nothing new for the cotton industry, he said, but the latest round cries out for growers and industry members to get more engaged. “Numbers mean everything to us whether it’s dealing with Sacramento or Washington or trade policy. We need to get engaged and support our leaders.”

The cotton industry also needs to better itself. “We need to get educated and stay informed and be ready to adapt to change. This industry is changing. The one’s that don’t Cotton Up I can only predict are going to Cotton Out. I hope fewer Cotton Out and more Cotton Up.”

Williams talked about the challenges in Sacramento, Washington and on the international front, focusing specifically on the farm bill and the National Cotton Council. “I never speak to a cotton group without mentioning the National Cotton Council,” he noted. “The strength of the council is that we bring all seven segments together and deliver the same message in Washington.”

The farm bill is working, he said, saving the government $17 billion to date. “Farm spending is less than 1 percent of the total federal budget, but you would think we had robbed Fort Knox judging from the criticism we receive.

“We need to get some of the pride back that used to be in this industry,” he noted. “So I hope that all of you will join with me tonight and start ‘cottoning up’ and patting your fellow industry people on the back and calling on them to Cotton Up.”

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