We were welcomed by Tanya Foerster – a TALL XII alumnus. You could see and hear her continued enthusiasm for the TALL program. She served on the planning committee for the Lubbock session and what an amazing session it was!!
Jaroy Moore followed with a comment that truly set the tone – “we are family”. As he spoke about the Southern High Plains agri-businesses, he re-enforced the idea that all ag businesses are connected – interwoven with each other – and that makes us all family.
Mark Brown introduced the historical sketch with ranching beginning in the late 1800’s and farming after 1900. But what was most amusing was the quote that the Southern Plains was unfit for cultivation and uninhabitable for people that depended on agriculture to survive. And now – District 2 represents 19.95% of the State’s agriculture production – $3.67 billion. It truly is awesome!! The Southern Plains now produces cotton, fed beef, milk, sorghum, corn, wheat, peanuts, alfalfa, hay, and vegetables. We also learned that one of our own – Kelly Kettner – farms many of the above products and adds pumpkins to the list. The farms we saw were mega farms with the latest technology – truly awesome – farming at its very best!! So where someone mistakenly designated this as a “treeless, desolate waste land of uninhabited solitude” it is now a land of food, feed, fiber, and fuel. And the people are its most valuable asset – heart, integrity, a prevailing work ethic, and a love for what they do.
Steve Vergett – Executive Vice President of the Plains Cotton Growers – explained how his organization has been cotton’s advocate since 1956. PCG does develop legislative programs at the state and national level – supports research efforts designed to improve the product – promotes cotton through programs and speaking engagements – and most importantly serves their producers as an advocate at every level of government. Dues are collected voluntarily. Steve was my host for dinner. He is passionate about what he does – his work with the producers. He is well informed and can certainly provide answers to any opposition the cotton farmers might encounter. He understands the issues and is well prepared to engage in lively debate over any threat to “his” producers.
Angie Martin represented the corn and peanut producers. Both agencies she represents operate on a check off assessment rate. Both these agencies provide research, market development, and education to increase the profitability of their producers. They are not legislative agencies. They want to remain focused on the actual product – drought-tolerant hybrids, irrigation technology, and tillage practices that conserve water.
The National Sorghum Producers, Mr. Tim Lust said that water was the farming game changer. He was right. Every conversation we had revolved around the topic of water. His organization represents sorghum growers from coast to coast in legislative and regulatory matters. 95% of all sorghum seed comes from the area and then literally goes all over the world.
A lobbyist is usually spoken of with the same disdain as one speaks of an attorney. But Tom Sell seems to distinguish himself as a leader and force for agriculture, food security, and rural issues – issues that are certainly near and dear to my heart. He believes that there are 3 keys to good advocacy in Washington. (1) Education – fight well – fight smart (I like it). There are 120,000 farms producing 85% of the US produce – now that’s worth fighting for!! (2) Participate – join the association that best represents you and get involved. (3) Work together!! Our issues as ag producers are complicated – cattle feed vs. Ethanol. So we are going to continue to need lobbyist who support the interests of agriculture – to provide counsel – and provide information and support for our leaders.
Our tour of the Texas Tech University Animal Science Building was enlightening. To me there was so many times in our travels that I was simply amazed at the work being done in agriculture that no one is aware of. We talk about a disconnect between the consumer and agriculture – but I am a producer and there is just so much I don’t know about the industry as a whole. So I was impressed with the work I saw at Texas Tech – research in progress, a meat harvest and fabrication facility, champion banners for their renowned meat judging teams, and a restaurant that serves their own beef and homemade ice cream.
As many years as I spent creating and producing fashion items, I have never been given the foundational information on cotton that I received on this trip. At the Lubbock Cotton Classing Office, I learned that the gin sends a sample size of cotton out of each bale. There is a bar code to identify the sample to the bale and the producer. The classing office is identifying strength – color – width of fiber – length of fiber – trash – leaf quality – moisture – stains or spots. The objective of the Grading and Classing of cotton is to facilitate interstate and foreign commerce by providing official quality determinations that aid in the marketing of US cotton. The Panhandle has come a long way in upgrading the quality of their cotton. They have set very high official standards. Of course, each sample is tied back to each bale of cotton so the producer is very watchful of the grading – it affects their pricing. There is a review process if a producer does not agree with the grading.
Monsanto operates a mega site in Lubbock. That word “mega” was starting to apply to everything I saw and heard about in the South Plains farming area. Their work is categorized into breeding groups – biotech – strategic traits – tech development and agronomy – gin facilities – equipment research and development with planters, harvesters, and sprayers. They do extensive work on cotton and corn. They do have a vegetable division. They have a soil library and set up weather stations on each field to gather data. They are currently working on IFS (Integrated Farming Systems) – satellite imaging for diseases. Of course, everyone is interested in their hybrid development – the best fit for the environment – for drought and water usage – for higher yields that require less acreage and water – higher yields to feed our expanding population. Monsanto wants to double production by 2030. It is a critical goal to reach in order to maintain our food safety and feed the world population.
We ended our day with a social at the TTU McKenzie-Merket Alumni Center. Mr. Steve Verett, Mr. Kent Hance, Dr. Michael Galyean, and Dr. Mark Hussey all spoke. They introduced, welcomed, and spoke briefly – but the most touching was Dr. Jim Mazurkiewicz as he memorialized the work of Mark Marley. Back to the beginning of the day – we are all family!!!