Cannon Michael says that when he began farming California had nearly 1.8 million acres of cotton. “We had our Cotton Board where we would approve varieties, and we had so many varieties submitted we would turn them away.”
That's no longer the case, Michael told participants at the 2019 High Cotton Breakfast at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show. California’s cotton industry has begun to bounce back from the low point of 200,000 acres, but the damage has been done to its infrastructure.
“We had 60-plus gins, and we’re now down to less than 20,” said Michael, who received the High Cotton Award for the West Region from Farm Press Senior Content Director Ron Smith. “It’s probably an industry that can never come back to even close to what it was. I think about that and folks who got out of the industry. A lot of it comes from the disconnection between the consumer and what they buy.”
Michael said he appreciates the efforts of entities such as Farm Press Publications, which sponsors the High Cotton Awards, and the National Cotton Council who are trying to “tell the story."
But he added, that while he can see the reason for telling the story of sustainability, he finds it difficult to understand why someone would think that he – a sixth-generation farmer – would not want to be sustainable.
“We’ve been doing it a long time, and anybody who thinks we would do anything to harm our soil or our workers or, ultimately, the consumer is wrong. I don’t know how but that narrative is out there that farmers don’t know what we’re doing, and we need to be told how to do better.
“I walk the same fields as my guys and never would put them in harm’s way,” he said. “The soil is something that without it we can’t grow the crops we do. We wouldn’t harm our soil and why would we do anything to hurt the people who buy our products?”
Agriculture needs to start using a different language. “We have a lot of pride and passion in what we do, but unless we can learn to translate that out to the other folks we’re not going to make a dent in this wave of perception.”
Collaboration is the key, he said. “We have identified some NGO (non-governmental organization) groups that are willing to work with farmers – not all of them are trying to litigate us out of business. Ultimately we need to find more new ways to connect with the consumer and show them the benefits of our products.”