By Blair McCowen
From an incredible crop year to the second annual Cooperative Producer Orientation hosted by Plains Cotton Cooperative Association, PYCO Industries, Inc., and Farmers Cooperative Compress, 2017 has brought in much excitement for the land of cotton and co-ops in its first few months.
This year’s orientation took place on a windy and chilly day. However, the weather conditions did not discourage the largest crowd yet for the Cooperative Producer Orientation (CPO). In attendance were 46 producers and their spouses nominated by their cooperative gins to attend the orientation and learn not only about the benefits of the cooperative structure, but also how their farming operations benefit from every level of the supply chain, from the gin to each regional cooperative. Kevin Brinkley, PCCA President and CEO, said the orientation was one of the best yet.
“We were extremely encouraged by the quality of the Cooperative Producer Orientation attendees,” Brinkley said. “I am especially optimistic about the number of spouses that participated in the orientation. Our growers are predominately family farmers. Having spouses involved doubles our opportunity to reinforce the co-op message.”
This year’s program began in the PCCA Delegate Body Room. A question and answer session with the CEOs of each regional cooperative, followed by a presentation of PCCA’s history, operations and services, provided attendees with a description of the cooperative structure and how PCCA works to provide its farmers stability in an often uncertain cotton market. Derek Dieringer, orientation attendee and producer from Midkiff, Texas, said he enjoyed the question and answer session as well as hearing about PCCA’s history.
“I did enjoy getting the gentlemen from each division up there and the questions they were presented with as far as where they see their facilities going or where they see the industry going,” Dieringer said. “The history is important because it really tells people about PCCA as far as where it stands for longevity, not just current times. I feel the history of PCCA is a pretty strong leg to stand on.”
Since its founding in 1953, PCCA has been a leader in the cotton industry in the areas of innovation and service, and still upholds those same high standards today, all the while working to serve its grower-owners and their respective operations.
Travis McCallister, orientation attendee and beginning cotton farmer from Acuff, Texas, said PCCA helps make running his operation easier.
“It makes my life a lot easier,” McCallister said, “because that (marketing) is one less thing I have to worry about, being a new farmer and trying to make all of these decisions I have never had to make before.”
Following PCCA’s presentation, attendees traveled to Farmers Cooperative Compress where the warehousing cooperative followed suit and presented its history, operations, and services to the crowd after lunch. Ron Harkey, President and CEO of Farmers Cooperative Compress (FCC), shared his thoughts on the orientation.
“I thought the orientation went very well, and it showed the interest that we have from our producer-members. It was great,” Harkey said. “They got to see where their bales are received, stored and shipped. I think it gives them a new perspective on the enormous value of having all of these bales available to merchants and textile mills around the world.”
After the presentation, attendees boarded busses for a tour of the cotton warehouses on the compress grounds in Lubbock. According to FCC’s website, the cooperative’s warehouse locations combined have a USDA licensed capacity to store 2.2 million bales, making it one of the largest cotton warehousing facilities in the world.
“The visual of how they load the trucks and pull the bales out of line is what really got my attention,” Dieringer said. “I would say that was the neatest part of the warehousing tour.”
The warehouse tour led to the final segment of the orientation: a tour of PYCO Industries, Inc.’s facilities. After the oil mill’s description of its history, operations and services, a walking tour took place to provide attendees with a deeper understanding of the cooperative’s complex operations and how every source of value is literally squeezed from the cottonseed.
Robert Lacy, PYCO Industries, Inc.’s President and CEO, said the oil mill decided to include a walking tour of its facilities so producers could see its operations in action.
“This year we gave them a tour in which they could see the machinery and touch the products we were making,” Lacy said. “The perception they have been given about an oil mill pales in comparison when they actually see how big and complex of an operation they own.”
The tour included every aspect of PYCO’s operations from working machinery to the by-products that result from the cottonseed processing that is unique to PYCO and concluded the 2017 Cooperative Producer Orientation.
Taylor Hurst, PCCA Member Communications Area Manager, was an organizer of the orientation and said the event serves a great educational purpose.
“For many producers, they have never stepped foot onto the grounds of their regional cooperatives. It is important to show them and educate them on what is theirs,” Hurst said. “We want them to be proud of their ownership and make sure they understand every facet of what we are doing to add more value to their cotton every single day.”
Lincoln Devault, orientation attendee and producer from Farwell, Texas, said visiting each cooperative during the orientation helped him see what the cooperative system is about.
“Now that I have gone and visited those co-ops, I see where my money goes and what their mission statements are,” Devault said. “It absolutely makes the farmer feel closer to that co-op and makes them want to use it.” McCallister echoed Devault’s comments.
“It allows my operation to have a wider reach than it would if I was just taking it to the gin and selling it and that was the end of it, if I didn’t have anything invested in it farther down the supply chain,” McCallister said.
The goal of the Cooperative Producer Orientation each year is to provide producers with an understanding of the cooperative structure and its benefits which the CEOs of each regional cooperative said they hope resonated with the attendees.
“Ownership matters,” Brinkley said. “We want our growers to know that their investment in all of their co-ops gives them control of their future. As long as their regionals are serving them, they will always have a plan for their cotton.”
Lacy echoed Brinkley’s remarks and emphasized the importance of passing down the cooperative structure to the next generation.
“I know these young producers are the future of the cooperatives in our area, and we want them to understand the reasons why each was formed,” Lacy said. “Each of the regionals was started to take care of a specific need the producers had at the time. I wanted them to see why their fathers and grandfathers felt it was so important to own their own businesses and control their own destinies.” Harkey concurred.
“Knowing the cooperative story should be a priority of every member,” Harkey said. “The impact it has on the local, state, and national agricultural economy is a story that we all should be proud of. It has had value, it has value today, and it will add value to future members. We must engage and tell our story.”