It all started with farmers. Farmers who were searching for stability in an uncertain cotton market and thirsting for the knowledge to run their operations more efficiently. It started with farmers wanting to have the courage to start all over “come planting time” and sow the small cotton seeds that would largely determine their future. It started with farmers recognizing that in order for the cotton industry to survive, it has to be passed on to the next generation.
Cooperatives all started with farmers. Likewise, the Cooperative Producer Orientation, hosted by Plains Cotton Cooperative Association, Farmers Cooperative Compress and PYCO Industries Inc., started because of the need to educate High Plains cotton farmers on the regional cotton cooperative system headquartered in Lubbock, Texas.
Cooperatives, whether ginning, marketing, warehousing, or cottonseed processing, enable cotton growers to keep their farming operations stable even when the volatile market, like a wolf at the door, threatens to devour their life’s work in seconds. To do so, any profit each cooperative makes is returned to its grower-owners in the form of monetary dividends.
Lincoln Devault, an orientation attendee and 2015 agricultural economics graduate of Texas Tech, commented on the importance of the dividends cooperatives provide farmers.
“If you don’t have a profit, a lot of these farmers aren’t going to be able to make it, so that is pretty important,” Devault said.
The annual orientation featured 46 farmers and their spouses from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and New Mexico. The attendees were educated on each phase of the cooperative system, or level of the supply chain as industry leaders call it, and how the legacy of farming is preserved in each. In doing so, the regional cotton cooperatives in Lubbock continually sow the seeds of the future by educating their grower and gin owners.
Devault said he is currently keeping his family’s near 100-year tradition of farming going with help from cooperatives.
“Pretty much my whole life I wanted to come back and farm on the family farm,” Devault said. “The No. 1 important thing for us is to be able to market our cotton at the highest price possible, and the only way for us to do that is to stick together in coops.”
Working Toward a Common Goal at PCCA
The theme of “sticking together” is how Plains Cotton Cooperative Association began the orientation event. The marketing cooperative provided an overview of its rich history, services, and marketing strategies that blend together to help producers get the best possible price for their cotton. The cooperative, which is one of the largest cotton marketing organizations in the world, was founded in 1953 by producers across the High Plains of Texas and has since led the industry in innovation and service. PCCA currently serves an estimated 9,000 grower-owners across Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Devault said PCCA’s presentation began with an explanation of the value of being a coop member.
“The first thing they did was go into the benefits of being part of the coop,” he said, “which is how a group of farmers that are like-minded come together and work toward one common goal, which is putting more money back into the farmer’s pocket.”
It is time for this younger generation to start taking over the reins and learning how our industry works and what it takes to keep it going. Lincoln Devault
Harvesting Profit at FCC
Following the presentation from PCCA, attendees had a working lunch at Farmers Cooperative Compress. The warehousing regional cooperative followed suit with its presentation and provided an overview of its history, services, and even included a tour of its cotton warehouses. In 1948, producers came together to resolve the issue of cotton storage on the High Plains, thus creating Farmer Cooperative Compress. Today, the cooperative has 208 warehouses, 7,000 members, and a USDA licensed capacity to store over 2.2 million bales of cotton. The cooperative recently celebrated a milestone in returning $1 billion back in dividends to its members since its establishment.
Orientation attendees also were provided a tour through the cotton warehouses, which were full of cotton bales from the 2016-2017 cotton crop’s unexpectedly high yields.
Travis McCallister, a new cotton farmer and 2014 Texas Tech agricultural economics masters graduate, said it was very educational to view the operations at Farmers Cooperative Compress.
“My favorite thing about going to the compress was going out in the warehouses and getting to see the production of how they move cotton in and cotton bales out and ship those,” McCallister said. “It was really interesting to see the production of it all.”
After a brief question and answer session in the cotton warehouses at Farmers Cooperative Compress, attendees traveled to PYCO Industries Inc.
Extracting Value at PYCO
PYCO Industries Inc., shared its history and an overview of its services and procedures prior to the tour of its facilities. The oil mill, which was established in 1936, is the oldest of the regional cotton cooperatives in Lubbock and is the largest cottonseed cooperative in the southern United States. The cooperative is also owned by cotton gins, rather than cotton growers like PCCA and Farmers Cooperative Compress.
PYCO Industries Inc. currently serves 60 member-gins and processes cottonseed from those gins to extract and refine cottonseed oil for cooking in various forms, as well as cottonseed byproducts, including cottonseed meal, hulls, and linters.
Cooperative Producer Orientation attendees had the opportunity to take a walking tour through the oil mill facilities to see every part of the operation possible, including real examples of the products and byproducts that result from processing the seed.
Devault noted the tour of PYCO Industries Inc., and its complex operations served as a valuable learning experience.
“A cotton plant is one of the most diverse plants as far as the amount of products that can come out of it,” he said. “It was really interesting to see how they develop all the different products that they sell and what they are used for.”
The tour of PYCO Industries Inc., concluded the 2017 Cooperative Producer Orientation.
THE NEXT GENERATION OF PRODUCERS
Devault and McCallister, both young producers, cooperative members, and former Red Raiders, said their takeaways from the event were second to none.
“I now have a vested interest in not only the cotton I grow here, but also getting it to the consumer in the cheapest way, and that turns me back more money,” McCallister said. “It allows my operation to have a wider reach than what it would if I was just taking it to the gin and selling it and if I didn’t have anything invested in it further down the supply chain.”
Devault echoed McCallister’s comments.
“Anytime you get a chance to visit a coop that you are a part of or that you are thinking about going into, you should jump on it,” Devault said. “You are going to learn something, and the more young farmers my age can get out and see what these coops are about the better it is going to be. It is time for this younger generation to start taking over the reins and learning how our industry works and what it takes to keep it going.”