Despite the differences of opinion that sometimes create tension among farm groups, the common ground is more, well, common, than are the rough spots that show up occasionally as grain and livestock bump heads or wildlife and row crop production disagree on conservation or other issues.
“We have more common interests than we have differences,” says Darren Turley, president of the Texas Agricultural Council, a group of consultants (ag lobbyists) during a recent tour of the West Texas cotton industry.
“Water, infrastructure (roads, bridges) and regulation are all important to all agriculture segments,” Turley, who represents the Texas dairy industry, explained at the tour’s first stop, the Lubbock Cotton Growers Gin.
Water, Turley said, may be the most critical issue for all of agriculture, a concern that has taken center stage during a three-year drought that has damaged farms, ranches, wildlife and the possible survival of small rural communities across the state.
“Proposition 6 [a proposition to initiate a state water plan to be decided in a November election] is very important. A lot of communities are at risk,” he said.
Turley said visiting specific agricultural industries, a practice the council follows every two years, offers the diverse membership a chance to learn about the challenges and opportunities specific segments of agriculture face.
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Tommy Engelke, executive vice president, Texas Agricultural Cooperative Council, said the bi-annual tours are crucial for the organization to learn more about the importance of all segments of the Texas ag economy. The council consists of representatives of 65 ag-related organizations, including cotton, dairy, wildlife, poultry, hogs, energy, corn, grains, vegetables, consultants and others.
“We sometimes don’t like to refer to ourselves as lobbyists,” Engelke said. “Lobbyist has a negative connotation, but we need to tell our story to the Texas legislature. This group is looking after the best interests of agriculture.”
“We educate and inform,” Turley said. The tours, he said, help us “understand what we all do.”
Bob Turner, who represents several organizations, including energy, sheep and goats and rural firefighters, said key issues he watches in Austin include environmental actions, regulations and labor. “We have to be aware of environmental extremists,” he said. “Texas is fortunate to have the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to act as a buffer between agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. Also, farm labor is a big issue,” he said.
Kelly Green, Texas Cotton Ginners, said TCEQ “has the best leadership of any environmental agency.”
Texas State Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said water is a pressing issue for the Texas legislature. “Water is a quality of life issue for our rural areas,” said Anderson, a veterinarian.
He also noted tele-communications as a key issue for rural Texas. “We also have to communicate the value of agriculture to the general public,” Anderson said. Competition for ag markets also affects Texas agriculture, he added, particularly from Mexico and Canada.
In addition to the cotton gin, the tour made stops at the Farmers Co-op Compress cotton warehouse, PYCO Industries, Inc. cottonseed oil mill, PCCA Denim Mill in Littlefield, a Ropesville cotton farm to see new harvest equipment and the USDA Cotton Classing Office in Lubbock.
Participants learned about the vast reach of Texas cotton—the importance cotton plays to the West Texas economy, and the variety of products that come from cotton, including livestock feed, oils, cloth and landscape materials.
Steve Verett, Executive Vice President, Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., explained the transition of West Texas cotton from relatively poor quality to cotton “that will compete with cotton grown anywhere in the United States.”
That assertion got some traction at the USDA Classing office where area director Kenny Day demonstrated how cotton is classed and noted that early grades have been good including an average of 3.76 mic, 30.9 staple, 36 average strength and 80.5 uniformity.
“Those are all good,” Verett said.
“We’re off to a pretty good start,” Day added.
Spokesmen at the gin, warehouse, oil mill and the classing office all predicted a relatively short crop following a third straight season of drought.
“But we have some very good cotton,” Verett said.