The Future of Farming in the Southeast
Mike Strain, Louisiana commissioner of agriculture and forestry, thinks Southern farmers have a bright, if challenging, future.
"The future of agriculture in this hemisphere will be in the Southeastern U.S. because of the availability of water,” Strain says.
"Look at the amount of food that will need to be produced by 2030. We're going to need to make it happen in the Southeastern U.S. Many places around the world are having water shortages, but in the Southeast we're talking about using surface water as well as groundwater.”
There could be problems with supply, however. "Just on the Mississippi River, there are 150 dams on the tributaries. We have to make sure agriculture is first in line for that water,” Strain says.
"We have to seize the opportunity and stay involved,” he adds.
Evaluate the Payback for Precision
How can you be certain precision technology turns a profit on your farm? Making that call could be a little easier now that the University of Tennessee has developed the Cotton Precision Agriculture Investment Decision Aid (CPAIDA).
"We developed it to determine break-even on different ag technology investments,” says Dan Mooney, University of Tennessee ag economist. "As production costs increase, commodity prices are stagnating. Precision farming is one method used to reduce costs. But increases in precision farming are constrained by uncertainty about profitability.”
With upfront precision farming investments running from $5,000 to $25,000, it's vital to make the right call. With the new evaluation tool, you plug in your desired variable rate technology equipment. The program then reports your costs spread across all your acreage options, including crops in addition to cotton.
It provides a "what-if” scenario, Mooney says, and tells what yields are needed in order to pay for the technology. That's different from the data some manufacturers provide.
"Manufacturers a lot of times only look at cost of the equipment. They're not looking at the information-gathering costs,” Mooney says.
Those costs include aerial or satellite imaging, soil sampling, yield monitoring, GPS signal subscription and custom mapping.
"You can get cost analysis per year or per acre for those costs, a profitability summary, a figure on net return per acre and the rate of return on investment. You can change equipment, the prices and farm characteristics,” Mooney says.
Find the CPAIDA program at http://economics.ag.utk.edu/cpaida.html.
The Word on Cotton
The Internet and social networking sites are helping the cotton industry spread its message around the world. Berrye Worsham, president and chief executive officer of Cotton Incorporated, says the site www.TheFabricOfOurLives.com had 3.6 million visitors in 2009. In addition, Cotton Inc. has 12,900 fans on its Facebook page.
Cotton Inc.'s new promotion, "The Fabric of My Life,” featuring three young singers in different versions, is geared to females age 18 to 34. Along with television advertising, it will have commercials on Web sites, which Worsham describes as "TiVo-proof.”
In China, Cotton Inc. has a separate promotion, "Cotton—Beyond Your Imagination,” for three years running. CottonToday.com targets consumers with a sustainability message, which is ever more important, Worsham says.
"Water is our Achilles heel. We have to reduce water usage in finishing and dyeing,” he says, indicating that researchers are developing ways to do just that.
Another tough nut is the positioning of organic cotton in consumers' minds. "One big challenge is getting the clothing industry to think beyond organics as a viable solution,” Worsham says.