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Plains Cotton Growers face weather, policy changes in ‘08

As Barry Evans, Kress, Texas, cotton and grain farmer, prepared to assume leadership of Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., at the organization’s 51st annual meeting recently in Lubbock, he reflected on the challenges facing the cotton industry.

“The agricultural industry has changed in the past two years,” president-elect Evans said. “Increased input costs have increased our risks. That’s one of the biggest changes on farms. But we still have to put out the necessary materials to make a crop.”

That risk is magnified by a drought that’s persisted since late last summer. “We have to have rainfall. A lot of our investment in a crop goes out with the seed.”

Evans expects Southern Plains farmers to stick with cotton. “I hear a lot of interest in acreage estimates,” he said. “I don’t expect much decrease this year. We had a drop in 2007 and we got benefit from rotation. Some soils now will be well-rested and will rotate back to cotton.”

He said cotton fits the region well. “We farm in a low rainfall area and cotton uses water efficiently.”

He said farmers are concerned about the farm bill that remains stuck between Congress and the Bush Administration. “I hope it’s done soon,” he said. “And then we have to consider implementation of the rules.”

He said when the law is finally enacted farmers will face some significant structural changes in policy. “We’ll see restructuring of entities,” he said. “Those rules need to be practical.”

He said entity changes will not affect his operation but will alter management decisions on some cotton farms. “We’re not sure yet just how farmers will be affected,” he said. “But we do worry about unintended consequences with sweeping changes.” He said those changes may also be unknowable.

Evan said he had no plans to suggest radical changes in how PCG operates. “We’ll stay on top of the issues and we have a lot of those, some of which will be difficult.”

PCG covers a large area, from near the Oklahoma state line in the upper Panhandle almost to Midland to the south.

“Our coverage area has grown as cotton production moved to the north.” Covering that big an area is possible, he said, because of the resources and staff available to the organization. “Our staff and resources make us effective.”

Evans said his personal production goals will remain the same as they have for years, a fifty-fifty split between cotton and grain sorghum. “And I no-till everything,” he said.

As he moves toward planting time he hopes to get rain. “We have a little moisture in the soil but it’s been a long time since we had a good rain. We had a little snow over the winter and a little moisture but we need more.”

Mike Hughes, who turned the president’s gavel over to Evans at the annual meeting, said the organization would continue to work to keep U.S. agriculture policy on track. That goal includes maintaining a base program similar to the 2002 law.

“We need a safety net and a level playing field for cotton and other commodities,” he said.”

The 2002 policy turned out better than most observers expected, Hughes said. “We spent less money than was anticipated. Now, PCG will continue to work with Congress to pass a fiscally responsible farm bill for 2008.”

He said cotton farmers want to keep the market loan and counter cyclical payments. “Those are important for the cotton industry.”

Hughes said proposals in either the House of Senate versions of the farm bill contain little new, especially for cotton.

“We will continue to defend the industry, through PCG and the National Cotton Council,” he said. Membership in those organizations “pays dividends when we visit Congress. The key is to work together regionally and nationally to find solutions.”

He said the major strength of agriculture must be to cooperate and compromise. “We have to put aside our personal agendas to work for what’s best for the whole industry,” he said.

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