The Multi-Commodity Exchange Program (MCEP), launched two years ago by the National Cotton Council, is proving to be a highly successful educational program as well as an American agriculture coalition-building effort.

The MCEP was launched in October of 2006 when producers from the Midwest/Far West traveled to North Carolina to observe cotton production/processing and other agricultural operations. Then, a group of Sunbelt growers saw agricultural production/processing and agribusiness operations in North Dakota in August of 2007. The next exchange is set for Nov. 9-14 in West Texas, and Midwest participants will get to see cotton and livestock operations along with agriculture and textile research and yarn and denim production.

The MCEP is coordinated by NCC staff with assistance from various Midwest agricultural and commodity organizations. The program receives financial support from The Cotton Foundation via grants from Deere & Company and Monsanto.

The MCEP goals are to provide current and emerging producer leaders with: 1) a better understanding of production issues/concerns faced by their peers in another geographic region and 2) an opportunity to observe agronomic practices, technology utilization, cropping patterns, marketing plans and operational structure. Another program objective that has come to fruition is that these exchange participants and their hosts have built strong and lasting relationships. For more MCEP information, visit www.cotton.org/multicommodity.

In the first session, for example, the Midwestern farmers not only saw cotton operations but toured Cotton Incorporated’s headquarters and Hanesbrands but were able to discuss cotton storage, flow and marketing with several graduates of the NCC’s Cotton Leadership Class.

Following the North Carolina tour, Steven Pigg, a Bushnell, Ill., corn and soybean farmer, said he was impressed with the diversity of Southern agriculture.

“Many of these cotton farmers are raising multiple crops, whether its sweet potatoes or tobacco,” Pigg said. “It makes me think that maybe I should add some more to my crop mix and spread the risk.”

Michael Bruer, a wheat, barley and soybean grower from Alberta, Minn., said he was impressed with North Carolina farmers’ efforts to extract a premium out of their individual crops, whether it was sweet potatoes or cotton. “Even though we produce commodities in bulk, it made me realize that maybe we could try to further segment our product as well,” he said.

One of the North Carolina hosts, Max Denning, a diversified farmer in Benson, said the MCEP participants asked a lot of questions that fueled good discussion on topics ranging from the challenge of no-till farming in the Midwest to the average age of farmers and the importance of creating incentives for people to continue farming and to attract young people to become farmers.

Denning, who is a Cotton Leadership Program graduate, too, said that he also discussed the challenge that he and other farmers in his area have of finding seasonal workers for their labor intensive operations.

Likewise, the Sunbelt participants, on their tour in North Dakota, were able to discuss mutual and different challenges facing agriculture in the Midwest and Sunbelt. They also visited an ethanol plant and saw production of various commodities, including wheat, barley, corn, sunflowers, canola, potatoes, sugar beets, soybeans and edible beans.