Kress, Texas, producer Barry Evans was named the 2021 Joe O'Neill Cotton Marketer of the Year during the virtual Beltwide Cotton Conferences, Jan. 5, 2021.
Evans, a cotton, wheat and sorghum farmer on the Texas High Plains’ is a numbers guy.
Barry Evans, Kress, Texas. (Photo by Shelley E. Huguley)
"When I graduated from college, I was a commodity futures broker for eight years," Evans said in a recent interview with Farm Press.
Before transitioning into the family farm in the early 90s, Evans received his bachelor's in agricultural business and economics from West Texas A&M University, Canyon. "I've been around the markets my entire adult life," he said.
When people think of marketing, they often think of selling commodities at a good price, he says. "But I promise you, I'm the last one who knows what the market's going to do."
For years, Evans made marketing decisions based on what he thought the markets might do. But that wasn't a successful strategy. "Irrelevant to what you think the market's going to do, you need to have a plan and make decisions to be profitable on your farm."
Evans' marketing strategy is a three-pronged approach:
- Producing good, quality cotton
- Purchasing crop insurance coverage
- Marketing the crop
"The way the spinning mills are now, if you don't have good, quality cotton, they just kill you on your basis. So, you need to grow cotton that will maintain its quality in a lot of stress, like what we've had lately," Evans said, referring to the 2020 crop plagued by drought and high temperatures.
"If you don't have quality cotton, it doesn't matter what else you do."
Next, Evans lists crop insurance as crucial to his risk management strategy. "I'm big on the countywide programs like STAX and SCO."
SCO (Supplemental Coverage Option) is a crop insurance option that provides additional coverage for a portion of the underlying crop insurance policy deductible, according to a USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) Fact Sheet. Growers must select SCO by the sales closing date for the underlying policy, and with the same insurance company.
If a grower has a good cotton base, SCO provides both revenue and production coverage, Evans said. "It can work well with your marketing plan. I know people don't want to pay that premium, but it helps place some floor on your price."
For growers without a good cotton base, Evans said STAX (Stacked Income Protection Plan) can be an important part of their coverage. According to the USDA-RMA website, STAX provides upland cotton coverage for a portion of the expected revenue for the grower's area.
"I think people overlook those a lot," Evans added.
Evans is not big on forward contracts. "Sometimes they're good but oftentimes, depending on the quality of your cotton, you can do better cash marketing.
"I used to be big on hedging futures but I've gotten caught in big runups and they're just too stressful and hard on my emotions and pocketbook," he said.
Evans prefers buying put options. "As the market goes up, you can buy puts and roll up to higher ones if the market continues to increase. This locks in your floor and allows you to take advantage of higher prices, should they occur. Purchasing puts works for me."
It's not a strategy he uses every year. "Last year, the market was basically low all year, so there wasn't any need to do anything. The year before (2019), we had a good price, so puts were a good strategy.
"The hardest part about options, and I've dealt with this for a long time, is you don't want to spend the money. It's a psychological thing that's hard to get past. You write the check and say the market continues to go up, and you lose money on that option, people think they've made a mistake by buying it. But, actually, their total profit was better because if they had contracted, they would have sold at a lower price -- your total income will be lower.
"Some people have a hard time writing that check, especially in years when they don't pay off. But it can improve profitability on your farm."
At his brokerage in the mid-80s, Evans recalled using clackerboards to keep up with markets. "It would come in over a phone line. The clackerboard took up the whole wall. It was mechanical and that thing would sit there and click. I can't remember what I had to pay for that clackerboard and phone line, but it was expensive.
"Now, you can pull it up on your computer or phone. It's so darn easy. I can get quotes and options prices and watch what's going on any time."
Evans uses the following websites to watch the markets:
- R.J. O'Brien's
- Flatland Grain
- Windstar Gins
"Most elevators or cotton gins have the markets on their websites," Evans said. "I use R.J. O'Brien's more than any of them."
He also reads columns by cotton economists John Robinson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, and O.A. Cleveland, professor emeritus, Mississippi State University. Robinson authors a cotton market outlook column, "Cotton Spin," for each issue of Southwest Farm Press.
Also vital to Evans' marketing success is his broker. "I have a broker I've worked with for the last 25 years I trust," Evans said, referring to Byron Fillpot, Ag Marketing & Management, Inc., Farwell. "We have a good relationship and I know he's not going to try to sell me anything. He's actually interested in marketing my crop."
Even with all these tools, Evans said it comes back to pricing and marketing at a price with which you are comfortable. "There's nothing I would like more than to be a good prognosticator on prices. I wish I could do that. I'm terrible at it," he joked.
Evans said he doesn't aim for the high of the market. "You might hit it once or twice in a lifetime but you're not going to do it often."
The recent run in the cotton market has Evans considering buying options. "They're pretty high right now for what you get. But it's time to start looking."
Evans is about to begin his 29th farming season. "I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. But I'm also grateful for my background and that I understand how futures and options work."
The Marketer of the Year award is named after Joe O'Neill, former CEO of the New York Cotton Exchange.
"Joe went around the United States working with Extension agents in every cotton state. He was tireless in his efforts," Cleveland said as he began the virtual award presentation. "In 1984 or ‘86, he took a couple of Extension specialists, one from Mississippi and one from Texas, to New York. He had us live up there a little while. He wanted to make sure cotton growers around the United States had a strong grasp of using the futures market and using the cotton options market. Joe is the reason we're here today."
The award has been presented the last 29 years and is sponsored by the New York Cotton Exchange and BASF.
"It's pretty humbling to receive this because there's no farmer that thinks they are good at marketing and I'm certainly one of them," Evans said in the virtual presentation. "It's very nice to be recognized."