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Cotton leader dealing with industry issues

Taylor Slade has been on the road as much as he’s been in the cotton field this year. As president of the North Carolina Cotton Producer’s Association, he carries with him the knowledge of what will benefit cotton growers, what bears watching and what needs improvement.

One for the comment that sums up things in a few words, Slade figures he’s “10 days from a drought,” even after a rain, and works with that thought in mind.

The Martin County, N.C., producer took the two-year post in February and hit the ground running. He’s been dealing with state issues as well as national and international issues. Trips to Georgia, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and Raleigh, N.C. have been the norm in his leadership post.

From the cab of his pickup, Slade talks about a number of issues concerning cotton growers, while the threat of two hurricanes wear on his mind.

“Cotton growers have a myriad of issues we’re facing,” Slade says.

First and foremost is the ever-important issue of quality. “Quality is our future,” he says. “It’s always been important, but with the added emphasis of having to sell overseas, it’s even more important.”

Slade believes it’s not a one-state issue in the Southeast. “If we get a reputation for poor-quality cotton in the Southeast, it can roll right up the line to North Carolina and other states. It’s our problem, not somebody else’s problem.”

In his position representing North Carolina producers, Slade sits on a number of cotton-related boards, including Southern-Southeastern. That group, as well as others, have funded research aimed at quality issues.

For his part, Slade picks varieties that have optimal strength and low mike. He plants four early-to-mid-season Roundup Ready varieties on his 700 acres of cotton and works to “keep the cotton clean.” He hasn’t made the switch to Bollgard technology because he believes he can keep his costs down with Round Ready.

He had just finished up spraying a second time for boll worms in mid-August. “The scouts say that’ll probably be the last time we spray this year.”

Like much of his outlook, Slade views issues in the light of the long-term.

The World Trade Organization ruling about cotton concerns him, of course, but in talks and at meetings, he believes that whatever will happen will be a long-time in coming, possibly after the current farm bill expires.

At the meeting of the American Cotton Producers in New Mexico recently, Slade and other delegates listened to a two-hour conference call with the United State’s trade representative.

The gist of the call was, it’s going to be a long process. If push comes to shove, said the trade representative, the cotton program may have to be realigned to make it legal.

“We’re supporting the National Cotton Council in its efforts to represent us,” Slade says. “I feel like we have the right people representing us. They recognize how important the cotton program is.”

Slade finds it ironic that cotton was singled out, but the issue, as posed, could apply to all commodity groups.

He owns the Roanoke Tar Cotton Gin in partnership with other cotton growers. “Quality cotton involves keeping the crop clean, planting good varieties, making sure the pickers are adjusted right at harvest and being timely at harvest. Those are some of the things that growers can do to help themselves.”

Slade started growing cotton in 1991. At that time, he built the gin because there were few in the area. “There are people who are ginners and there are people who are farmers. I am a farmer. I’m in the ginning business because I needed to be; I’m in the farming business because I wanted to be.”

When the gin was built in 1991, there were only about 4,000 acres of cotton in Martin County, N.C., which is in the eastern part of the state. Since then, Martin County has been up to about 48,000 acres. The gin has produced as many as 60,000 bales of cotton. Last year, the gin did 43,000 bales.

When Slade returned from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to farm with his father in 1971, cotton had already left the farm. “My father never threw anything away, and I found a cotton plate one day and asked him what it was,” Slade laughs.

“He told me, ‘give that thing to me. I don’t want to ever plant another seed of cotton.’”

Slade wonders what his father would think of him today since he’s so involved in growing and promoting cotton.

“There were two reasons for the cotton revival in North Carolina, I think,” Slade says. “One was the consumption increase in the U.S. Second, the boll weevil eradication program.

“The Boll Weevil Eradication Program had its start in North Carolina and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons we’ve gotten back in cotton the way we have,” Slade says.

Billy Carter, the executive vice president of the North Carolina Cotton Producers Association, has kept him busy, Slade chuckles. “North Carolina cotton growers don’t realize the asset we have in Billy. He’s so well-received and respected in all areas of the Cotton Belt.”

Slade says he feels honored to serve North Carolina cotton producers. “It’s an honor to represent cotton growers. We have a lot of issues that need to be addressed. Right now, we’re working with the dean of North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to get a technician hired for our state cotton specialist.”

In between trips to national organization meetings, Slade is preparing for the Sept. 15 field day that the North Carolina Cotton Producers Association will host at the Upper Coastal Plain Research Station near Rocky Mount.

“It’s great that we’re having the field day at an experiment station that the North Carolina Department of Agriculture owns and the North Carolina State University Extension experts do research at,” Slade says. “It’s a great partnership that I think benefits all North Carolina farmers.”


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