From the Georgia Cotton Commission:
Now in its 27th year, the P.I.E. program is sponsored by Bayer CropScience through a grant to The Cotton Foundation. The program is designed to give cotton farmers from across the Cotton Belt firsthand experience of how their peers from different cotton producing regions are adapting to challenges and using current technologies. Participants learn about unique farming practices and agricultural industries in different regions of the Cotton Belt. Lee Hall, Industry Relations Lead with Bayer CropScience, says that “Bayer CropScience is proud to sponsor the P.I.E. program. It’s important for us to listen and understand the challenges producers face and think about how we can help.” Hall, who lives in Research Triangle, NC, says that “we have more in common than we do differences across U.S. agriculture; this is great opportunity and privilege to learn and interact with growers.” Regarding the future of the cotton industry, Hall notes that “Bayer CropScience will continue to support activities like this through NCC and The Cotton Foundation, and to invest in cotton through new varieties.”
Program participants saw a wide range of agricultural activities ranging from a cotton spinning mill to an agricultural aircraft manufacturer. The first stop on the participants’ tour through Georgia was at 1888 Mills, LLC, a textile manufacturer in Griffin. Though there are not as many textile mills in the Southeast as there was 20 years ago, the participants learned of the still vibrant, albeit smaller, textile industry in Georgia. From there, the group traveled south to learn about the famous Georgia peach industry from Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley. The day concluded with a tour of a cotton gin at Coley Gin and Fertilizer in Vienna.
The next day, participants toured the Tifton area. Having stops at Kelly Manufacturing Company (KMC) and Tifton Quality Peanut, the program participants got to learn about the peanut industry, an industry that does not exist in the participants home states of California and Arizona. The participants spent the remainder of the day at Lewis Taylor Farms learning about vegetable production from Bill Brim and at Davis Farms with Bart Davis learning about cotton, peanut, and cattle production.
The following day, the group toured the Albany area. There the group toured Miller Brewing Company to learn about automated machinery for product handling and Thrush Aircraft, a manufacturer of agricultural aircraft. The group saw firsthand how Thrush makes complete aircraft from start to finish at their facility in Albany. The latter part of the day was spent touring Bayer CropSciences’ cotton test plots and visiting RCL Farms in Bronwood. RCL Farms is a family farm operated by Ronnie Lee and his three sons – Neil, Ron, and Chandler. The Lee’s also own and operate McCleskey Cotton, a cotton gin and warehouse company in Bronwood. Ronnie showed the group his gin and explained how the operation works while Neil showed the group fields of cotton and peanuts. The California and Arizona growers were surprised to see a field of Pima cotton growing on RCL Farms since Texas is the furthest east Pima is typically grown. Neil explained to them that this is just a small field that they are trying this year.
The final full day of the trip was spent touring southeast Georgia. Kent Fountain, President of Southeastern Gin and Peanut Company, gave the group and a quick historical sketch of cotton and peanut production in southeast Georgia. From there, the group visited with James Clark, Southeastern Gin and Peanut’s crop advisor, in cotton test plots. Similar to RCL Farms, Southeastern Gin and Peanut has a small field of Pima cotton they are trying this year. The toured stopped by the farm of local cotton farmer, Johnathan Mann, to learn about drip irrigation. Mann explained how his system worked and the California and Arizona growers had good feedback and input as some of them also farm cotton using drip irrigation. The day ended with a tour of FMR Burch Farms in Screven. Steven Meeks, who farms cotton, peanuts, and tobacco, hosted the group and explained tobacco production. Tobacco, much like peanuts, is a commodity not grown in the western U.S. Meeks explained the history of the Georgia tobacco industry and some challenges that the industry faces in future.
At the conclusion of the tour, all participants were very grateful for the experience. Bob Bertao, a Dos Palas, CA cotton, alfalfa, cantaloupe, and wheat farmer, said that “I enjoyed the trip very much and saw lots of different types of crops in both dryland and irrigated fields; it was neat to learn about the different cultural practices.” Bertao has been farming since 1974 and currently farms about 900 acres. David Collins, a Willcox, AZ cotton, alfalfa, and pinto bean farmer, said that it was a privilege for him to be on the tour. “I enjoyed seeing the differences in agriculture and it’s nice to find out about the problems facing other producers and how similar some of our issues are,” noted Collins. He went on to say that “it’s nice for farmers to understand what is going on around the country and for us to band together and support each other because we are such a small percentage of the population.” Collins farms about 1,200 acres in the Sulphur Springs Valley of Arizona.
Steven Meeks of FMR Burch Farms says he enjoyed meeting and exchanging ideas with growers from different regions of the Cotton Belt. Meeks also noted that “it’s important for us to participate in programs like the P.I.E. program so that we can all learn about the challenges facing producers across the Belt.” Regarding the outcome of the tour, Meeks says that “it’s important that we learn from each other so that we have a unified voice in agriculture – whether that’s in Washington, D.C. speaking with elected officials or in our local grocery store speaking with consumers.”