By Jayci Cave
Many people in the industry may be familiar with The Cotton Board and its efforts to support and promote the U.S. cotton industry, but do you know the faces of the organization in your area? Both Shelley Heinrich and Christi Short serve as Regional Communications Managers and work hard to educate and build relationships with producers and others in the industry. Learn more about them and The Cotton Board with each of their features.
“They are salt of the earth kind of personalities. They are very genuine. They are very thankful and appreciative of the information that you give them.”
These are the words Shelley Heinrich used to describe the cotton farmers she has the opportunity to work for. Since July of 2017, she has been The Cotton Board Regional Communications Manager for the Southern Plains. The Cotton Board is the oversight and administration arm of the Cotton Research and Promotion Program.
“My primary role is to communicate to producers what the Cotton Research and Promotion Program is doing with their assessment dollars,” Heinrich said. “I spend my days communicating with cotton farmers in the Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas Panhandle, and South Plains areas.”
Heinrich and her husband, Burt, have been married for 31 years and have four children, Heath, Lauren, Aubry and Reagan. Prior to working at The Cotton Board, Heinrich worked for many years in the banking industry before retiring to stay home and help her husband on the family farming operation. She then found her own place in the agricultural industry and began working for National Sorghum Producers. She was with them three and a half years before she joined The Cotton Board team.
Heinrich said the most interesting thing she has learned since she began working at The Cotton Board is that producers are not the only ones that pay into The Cotton Research and Promotion Program.
“Importers pay an assessment as well, and the collection breakdown is about 50-50,” Heinrich said. “Importers pay in on products that contain cotton that are coming back to the U.S. and producers pay in on the bales they produce.”
One grower by themselves could not do what those collective producer dollars are doing for the industry, Heinrich said. She said her favorite part of the job is having the opportunity to educate growers.
“You get to go out there and get your boots in the dirt with them, explain it and watch them get excited about it,” Heinrich said. “That’s what is fun. My favorite part is educating.”
According to their website, The Cotton Research and Promotion Program’s ongoing goal is to develop, fund and implement a coordinated plan of research designed to strengthen upland cotton’s competitive position and to maintain and expand domestic and foreign markets and uses for cotton. Heinrich said one aspect that is unique about The Cotton Board is communication with the organization actually conducting the cotton research and promotion, Cotton Incorporated, is a two-way street.
“You are feeding the research and promotion staff of Cotton Incorporated new ideas coming from producers, and they share about the research and promotion they are doing on behalf of growers,” she said. “Being the go-between and helping both sides understand the others’ work is awesome and fun.”
Heinrich said the research that Cotton Incorporated does on the production side ranges from seed genetics to the engineering of equipment and environmental issues.
“I can relate to that really easily because that is what we talk about at the dinner table almost every night,” Heinrich said. “At my house we are always farming.”
On the textile side of things, Heinrich said Cotton Incorporated is doing research and building relationships with brands and retailers to try and increase the amount of cotton they use in their products. They are constantly looking at trends and introducing innovative solutions to work toward their goal. The research and promotion funded by The Cotton Board benefits all those across the cotton industry as they strive to keep cotton the fiber of choice to textile mills.
“Cotton Incorporated’s Ag & Environmental Research Division works on a variety of projects aimed at advancing cotton’s position in the marketplace and within the sustainability community,” Heinrich said. “Consumers continue to put pressure on brands and retailers to be more transparent with their supply chains. Cotton Incorporated sees this as a unique and advantageous opportunity to position cotton as the fiber of choice.”
Heinrich said her favorite event that The Cotton Board puts on is the producer tours to Cotton Incorporated. She enjoys these events because it allows growers to see what exactly their contribution to the Program provides.
“You can take somebody that does not understand the Cotton Research and Promotion Program, and take them to Cotton Incorporated, then they are able to see first-hand the operations and leadership,” she said. “It’s like the lights turn on when they get to see for themselves and experience some of the research that takes place across the cotton industry. They see their investment dollars in the program hard at work and they become advocates themselves.”
Another aspect Heinrich enjoys about her position is the opportunity to work with all the people in the cotton industry as well as the other organizations like PCCA and Plains Cotton Growers.
“Working with who we call our industry partners has been very helpful to me in establishing relationships within the industry,” Heinrich said. “They have been more than helpful in getting my feet on the ground and helping create awareness for the cotton industry. We are all in this together and if we aren’t helping each other, we serve no good to any of the producers at all.”
Whether at work traveling across Texas, Oklahoma or Kansas, or at home eating dinner with her family – Heinrich is passionate about promoting agriculture and supporting the people in it.