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cotton farming

A Passion for People, Policy and Cotton

Whether he is walking the halls of Capitol Hill advocating for the southern plains cotton industry or driving a tractor through the red dirt of Crosby County, Texas, Steve Verett has left his footprint on the agriculture industry.

Originally from Crosby County, Texas, Steve Verett, chief executive officer of Plains Cotton Growers Inc., has spent his entire life in agriculture.

“It’s the greatest job in the world for a guy like me that I get to work for an industry that I care about greatly,” Verett said.

Although farming was not his long-term goal after graduating from Texas Tech University with a degree in accounting, Verett returned home to the family farm where he worked with his brother, Eddie.

“Over the years, my brother and I have had excellent working and personal relationships,” Verett said. “We complemented each other very well and it enabled me to do a lot of things outside of the farm.”

“It’s the greatest job in the world for a guy like me that I get to work for an industry that I care about greatly.”

Steve Verett

While he loves working closely with his brother, Verett said he knew if he was ever going to make a move away from the farm to something like policy, his involvement within other organizations would matter greatly. In 1993, Verett was given an opportunity to work for Texas Food and Fibers Commission, a state agency that conducts agricultural research contracted for research with four different universities in the state, Texas Tech being one of them. 

While growing a passion for policy working with the Texas Food and Fibers Commission, Verett said this opportunity has continued to contribute to his career today.

“I really got a completely different perspective that has served me well since then,” Verett said.

After being offered his current position as CEO, Verett has been leading PCG since 1997. PCG is a non-profit producer organization composed of cotton producers in the Texas High Plains. The organization focuses on legislation, research, promotion and service to assist the needs of their members, volunteers and producers.

“Now, you know, the fact of the matter is that while we may come up with some ideas and we may work on some things, it’s our volunteers that are the heart of this organization and that’s what makes us what we are today,” Verett said.

Verett said their staff is guided by their volunteers, and it is just the organization’s job to carry out the volunteers’ goals. While PCG only represents cotton growers in the 42 counties surrounding Lubbock, Verett and other staff members work with producers and legislators all over the country represent cotton farmers in Austin, Texas, and Washington D.C.

Barry Evans, a cotton farmer from Kress, Texas, and former president of PCG has worked with Verett for many years.

“Steve is incredible,” Evans said. “He is the go to guy for anything to do with cotton in West Texas and anywhere in the country.”

Verett’s role as CEO varies, but his most important job is contributing to agricultural legislation. Verett has had the opportunity to work on all farm bills since 1997, experiencing many highs and lows for the cotton industry.

Photo of Steve Verett talking with Ted Cruz
In 2016, Ted Cruz visited the Hub City to meet with Mr. Verett and other leaders in the agriculture industry. Photo courtesy of Plains Cotton Growers.

“Well, you know, [farm bills] are all unique and some have certainly been disappointments,” Verett said. “Some we’ve been elated about.”

The first farm bill Verett worked on as a professional with PCG was the milestone 2002 Farm Bill.  During this time, all of agriculture was coming off tough times with disaster and disaster programs, but with surplus dollars in the government, they were able to make some improvements within crop insurance and Title One programs critical to the area.

With the next farm bill taking place in 2008, Verett said this one was a status quo bill. With pressure coming from all sides, he considers it to be a victory nowadays. His experience with the 2014 Farm Bill varied greatly.

“Farm bill ‘14 was a very tired and disappointing farm bill from a cotton perspective,” Verett said. “As it turned out, we were lucky probably to maintain what we did.”

Cotton was removed from Title One for the first time in the history of farm programs in the 2014 Farm Bill, creating frustration for cotton farmers within the Texas High Plains and nationwide.

“The cotton industry decided that, in order to clear the decks, we had to do something completely different to clear this case up,” Verett said.

While working hard to help cotton farmers in the High Plains during this trying time, the Stacked Income Protection Program was implemented. While it was able to help cotton farmers, Verett said it was never going to be able to take the place of the price support program they had to give up.

“The ‘14 Farm Bill was really a low point for cotton from the standpoint that we weren’t like the rest of the commodities,” Verett said.  “But you know, it was kind of one of those deals, you think that you got to make lemonade out of lemons and that’s what the industry did, and the leadership of the House Ag Committee helped us do.”

Verett said there were many attempts made to try to get cotton back into the farm bill. It was finally taken care of in February of 2018 when the Balanced Budget Act was passed to take cotton back into the bill as seed cotton rather than just lint, even before the farm bill was being discussed for the new authorization.

“So, it was a joyous day, when that was finally accomplished,” Verett said. “I shudder to think, where we would be today if we didn’t have that in place. It is absolutely critical at this point.”

Verett continues to fight the good fight, putting cotton farmers first. He said he attributes the success of the organization to those he surrounds himself with.

“I’m really not all that smart,” Verett said. “But I recognize talented people I think, and I’ve surrounded myself with talented people that have that fire in the belly for this industry.”

More Than an Old Pair of Jeans

At last, denim is returned to its natural cotton fiber state and upcycled into denim insulation. Photo courtesy of Stacey Gorman.
F

or many, those old, worn out denim favorites mean nothing. Shoving them in the back of your dresser drawer, throwing them in the back of your closet, or putting them in an old trash bag full of clothes is what you might do. However, thanks to a program sponsored by Cotton Incorporated, the worn denim favorite means sending a portion of your closet to a community in need. 

Blue Jeans Go Green is a program that Cotton Incorporated uses as an innovative research and promotion effort. The program helps to work across the country to collect denim and recycle it into UltraTouch denim insulation.

 According to Bonded Logic, UltraTouch Denim Insulation is the grouping of 35 years of insulation experience and a revolutionary patented manufacturing process, which creates a superior and safe productfrom high-quality natural fibers. Once it is recycled, the program then provides a portion of the denim insulation to communities in need each year. 

“The program started in 2006, and it has since then diverted more than 2 million pieces of old worn jeans that have been repurposed into a usable product,” said Stacey Gorman, director of communications for the Cotton Board.

According to Cotton Incorporated Blue Jeans Go Green website, with the help of people like you and I, the program has recycled over 1 million tons of denim, 2 million pieces of denim have been diverted from landfills, and 4 million square feet of denim insulation have been manufactured over the past 13 years. By recycling worn denim into insulation, Blue Jeans Go Green keeps textile waste out of landfills and helps with building homes in communities in need around the country. 

Gorman said the program has given Cotton Incorporated ways to show they are sustainable and make a positive impact on the communities around them. As awareness continues to grow and new opportunities become available to recipients, Blue Jeans Go Green expects to see continued growth over the next few years. 

There are opportunities to participate in the Blue Jeans Go Green denim recycling process. Some of the many ways to do this is to mail your denim, take it to a local retailer, school or event, or sign up online to start your own drive for recycling old denim. 

Gorman said Cotton Incorporated started this program by collecting money from a check off program from cotton growers and investing it in research and promotion to help improve the profitability and the marketability of their costs. Gorman said Blue Jeans Go Green came from their consumer marketing division and it’s just a way to really associate cotton and fiber with a feel-good message to consumers.

“It’s really inspiring to get to work and be a part of something that is so unique,” Gorman said, “but also beneficial to the environment.”

Gorman said communicating about a program like this is an effort for consumers to think about their blue jeans and what they are doing to recycle them, while feeling good about how they can impact the environment.

“Finding ways to show that we’re sustainable and really make a positive impact on the communities around us is super important,” Gorman said. 

Through the program, Gorman said Cotton Incorporated has coordinated denim drives on 82 college campuses and there are various brands and retailers that like to get on board with the program as well. Anyone can apply to host a denim drive, whether big or small, any effort can make a big impact in your community. 

PhytoGen, a U.S. cottonseed brand, is partnering with Cotton Incorporated’s Blue Jeans Go Green denim recycling program to help spread cotton’s sustainability message. PhytoGen and the National FFA Foundation and local FFA chapters will be collecting old denim at various events throughout 2019 located in Anaheim, California, Memphis, Tennessee, Lubbock, Texas, Chandler, Arizona, and Tifton, Georgia. 

Derek Racca is the brand manager for PhytoGen and is the spokesperson for the partnership. He graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in agricultural education and communications from Texas Tech University and is excited about moving forward with this program.

“We are thrilled to partner with Cotton Incorporated and Blue Jeans Go Green to essentially bring cotton full-circle,” Racca said. “This program helps the communities in which our customers live and work by keeping denim out of landfills, as well as playing a role in donating insulation to charities, such as Habitat for Humanity.” 

Participating FFA chapters will have from the date the invitation is received from their sponsor until their designated event time. This process gives each FFA chapter approximately four weeks to begin collecting as much denim as they can. During each FFA chapter’s designated event, a representative of each chapter must deliver the collected denim to the designated location where it will be weighed. 

Racca said all of the denim collected for this contest will be donated to Cotton Incorporated for their Blue Jeans Go Green program. The FFA chapter that collects the most denim, based on the weight of the denim collected and weighed by the representatives of Cotton Incorporated, will receive a $1,500 donation toward their chapter. 

Through this partnership, communities are working together to get FFA students involved in the program. It is important in the programs efforts to grow and continue to change communities one piece of denim at a time. 

“PhytoGen is proud to partner with the Blue Jeans Go Green program in the continuing effort to help communities and FFA chapters thrive,” Racca said. “Whether its denim jeans, jackets, shirts or skirts, every piece of denim makes a difference.”

Cotton Pickin’ Technology

Technology is a driving force in society. As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry. Farming is no exception. The Plains Cotton Cooperative Association, a cotton marketing association, does their part in staying up-to-date with the latest technology for their members.

Joe Tubb, vice president of information systems at PCCA, has been referred to as the “I.T. guy” for 30 years and counting. His position has rewarded him with experience and wisdom in the field of cotton technology.

“When I came here we started with IBM frames and cards,” Tubb said. “Actual, physical warehouse receipts were a punch card. So, we dealt with punch cards. We got rid of those. We actually had a patent for the electronic title and electronic trading of goods that we used to get off of that.”

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Module mapping technology making it easier for gins to locate bales on an eld once they are called in. Courtesy of Rusty’s Weigh.

Technology in cotton gins and warehouses has since taken off, moving almost completely to a digital system. Steven White has been the director of cotton services and gin accounting at PCCA for 14 years.

“Even, just for me over the past 14 years, there’s been a huge change,” White said. “As simple as the types of computers that we use, to the number of computers that are out there, so now there’s a lot happening on tablets and phones.”

White said PCCA sees the needs of their members and does their best to accommodate them. They focus on efficiency to enhance the member experience.

“These days, though, if you can just cut down on clicks, people love it,” White said. “You don’t have to make the biggest and worst system. You just have to make it efficient.”

White said the challenge is to fit complicated systems into one easy-to-use product. He said it can be challenging to manage, but he hopes PCCA does a good job at it.

This warehouse in Lubbock, Texas, is where cotton is labeled and tracked to know where it came from and where it is going. The new green bag technology is used for efficiency and easy storage.

There is a gap in generations when it comes to acceptance of change in technology. Cotton farming is no different, and White said PCCA does what they can to keep members of all ages satisfied.

“We still see quite a difference in the older generation and the younger generation, but that gap is closing,” White said. “We still do some of the older things for the older members, which is great, because they don’t expect anything else. There is a group that it is hard [to get to adapt to new technologies].”

White said he is often surprised by older generations of farmers who are willing to try new technology.

“It’s in the attitude,” Tubb said. “A lot of these farmers, that are still farming today, they don’t farm the way they did 10 years ago or 20 years ago. So they’re already adapting, so I think they just consider technology another tool. If it helps them get their job done and get their information, they’re ready to go.”

PCCA gets requests from members and gins alike for what technology they wish to see implemented in the future. Aside from sorting through such requests, PCCA employees look for ways they can improve the ginning process.

“We don’t do a whole lot of development that isn’t requested by our customers. It does, no doubt, take a while to get the kinks worked out,” White said.  “I would say every program has its first version that may not look anything like the final product. It takes time. It takes testing here and in the field and in the gin.”

Not because we want to be necessarily the leading edge, but because that’s what we need to have to do our business.

The cotton farming process is practiced throughout the year, thus, improvements to member experience are made year-round. White said there are many ways enhancements are requested and it is sometimes difficult to sift through what needs to be done.

Chachere_Cotton018
Drone shot of cotton harvester in Phytogen research field.

“If it benefits the group,” White said, “and it’s doable, then we try to get that done. If there’s something that’s needed and Joe says it can be done without much trouble, there are enhancements that get put out all the time.”

White said they distribute enhancements to a point where there is trouble getting news of the enhancements to their members.

With many projects being worked on, PCCA releases enhancements slowly to aid in this process. Tubb said instead of having an all-encompassing software, they release it in increments to better maintain it. He said this is done, in part, because technology is rapidly changing, so what they wanted when a new project begins is not likely to be the same once the project is complete.

Tubb said PCCA works to stay current with technology trends and uses it to their advantage.

“PCCA has used technology as an advantage for 30 years and we’re not stopping,” White said. “We’re going to increase it. It’s a little easier for some of these other companies now to get into the technology side in some regards, so that means we got to push a little harder and stay with it.”

Tubb said people are surprised when they enter PCCA’s office, thinking they are going to be “some backwater place still using Windows 98.”

“We try to keep our I.T. group current,” Tubb said. “We’re running state-of-the-art technology in servers – our machine room looks far different today than it did 10 years ago. We’ve virtualized a lot of things. Not because we want to be necessarily the leading edge, but because that’s what we need to have to do our business.”

Contrary to similar situations, the men at PCCA did not complain about the advancements and changes we see today, but they welcome it, and all the work that comes with it.

Farm Bill 2018: Cotton headed in a different direction

Cotton field pictured during the golden hour right before harvest.

LUBBOCK, TX – Given the deadline to revise a bill in 12 to18 months, cotton farmers and legislators are switching gears from lint to oil, seeking alternatives to aid the American cotton farmer to offset the impact of three years of low commodity prices.

Lint cotton prices started to decline in direct correlation with the World Trade Organization ruling against U.S. cotton in the case Brazil vs. United States in 2002.

“When Congress did the last farm bill one of the things they did was remove cotton out of the Title 1 because that was one of the sticking points,” said Darrin Hudson, Ph. D, Texas Tech University Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics professor, was a result of that ruling.

In doing so, lint cotton was removed from Title 1 and moved into the insurance title of the farm bill.

Title 1 programs are traditional farm income and price support mechanisms. Other commodities in Title 1 receive payments equal to the difference between the legislated price and what the market price is. Essentially, if the market price is above the legislated price, the farmer/producer receives no payment.

Executive Vice President of Plains Cotton Growers Inc., Steve Verett said, “the [insurance program] was not going to provide the kind of risk management cotton farmers needed for the long-term price decline.”

“We’ve been looking at any other option or other ways that we can try to provide that Title 1 support,” Verett said.

Aside from assessing risk, cotton is a unique crop from the standpoint that it produces two co-products, lint and cottonseed oil, which Verett said is just as valuable as vegetable oil.

With oil seeds comprising a significant amount of products in the U.S. there happens to be a minor oilseed title in the farm bill.

“A thing about the minor oilseeds is, individually, there are very small acres but in aggregate they are an important component. And so they deserve that protection,” said Shawn Wade, director of policy analysis and research for Plains Cotton Growers Inc.

Cottonseed oil recognition is at the forefront of Plains Cotton Growers Inc.’s agenda for this upcoming Farm Bill revision. Verett and Wade advocated for cottonseed oil to be recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Though cottonseed oil was not accepted in the minor oilseed title, the Secretary did hear the public and issued a one-time payment for the sharing of ginning cost.

Want to voice an opinion or keep up with the latest and upcoming hearings? Visit http://www.agriculture.senate.gov/hearings?mode=list to learn more.

The Department of Agricultural Education and Communications Department at Texas Tech University is considered a national leader in the discipline. The department offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in agricultural education, agricultural leadership, and agricultural communications. Faculty members represent a wide range of backgrounds, interests, and are involved in a variety of local, state, regional, national, and international activities and organizations. Visit www.depts.ttu.edu/aged/ for more information about the department.

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