By Jayci Cave
Whether running the farming operation, supporting it and her family behind the scenes, or working in the industry, women play an integral role in agriculture; more specifically the cotton industry. The Cotton Board realized this and saw an opportunity to begin putting an emphasis on reaching out and educating women in agriculture. In August 2016, The Cotton Board hosted the second Women in Agriculture Tour of Cotton Incorporated.
“Women play such a huge role in our industry, and it was important for us to bring them together,” said Stacey Gorman, Director of Communications at The Cotton Board. “The women in the cotton industry are a treasure trove of untapped perspective and information. We wanted to reach out to them to educate them about the Cotton Research and Promotion Program and to start fostering relationships with this sector of the industry in hopes of inspiring future leaders.”
The Cotton Board regularly hosts producer tours to make sure farmers know everything The Cotton Research and Promotion Program does for them. On the 2016 Women in Agriculture Tour, there were 35 attendees representing various professions and states across the Cotton Belt. These included cotton producers, ginners, farm and agritourism business managers, and industry relations professionals.
On this tour, attendees had the opportunity to hear about each segment of Cotton Incorporated in detail. This allowed them to see exactly what the organization is doing in the areas of agricultural research, fiber competition, product development, global supply chain marketing, and consumer marketing. An in-depth tour of the Cotton Incorporated corporate headquarters in Cary, North Carolina, and Raleigh Denim also were on the agenda. Attendees had the opportunity to network with others in the industry as well as the employees from The Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated.
Christy Lewis, Director of Member Services for the Texas Agricultural Cooperative Council, said she enjoyed meeting new people and learning more about the cotton industry.
“Sixty-five percent of our members are in the cotton industry,” Lewis said, “It is imperative that I learn as much as I can about the cotton industry to better serve them. My favorite part of the tour was hearing each of the women introduce themselves and talk about their experience on the farm. I enjoyed getting to know them and learning about the joys and challenges of farming. I am consistently amazed at the passion in the industry, especially given the high- risk nature of the business.”
Bob Stanley, Southwest Regional Communications Manager for The Cotton Board, said his favorite part of the tour was seeing how dedicated Cotton Incorporated is to its mission.
“My favorite part of the tour is seeing the dedicated and passionate people from Cotton Incorporated share with the people they serve how Cotton Incorporated is investing the funds raised by The Cotton Research and Promotion Program,” Stanley said. “In my eight years of service, I have yet to see a single person come home without an increased appreciation of the work Cotton Incorporated is doing around the world to promote our cotton.”
Gorman said The Cotton Board wants to make sure everyone in the cotton growing community is aware of their program, but on this tour specifically, they wanted to educate women to become advocates for the cotton industry. As a result, social media training was included in the most recent Women in Agriculture Tour. Gorman said research found the women in the industry tend to be more active on social media sites like Facebook.
Everyone in the agricultural industry understands the need to advocate in order to protect the industry and their lifestyle. Lewis said it is vital that the industry have informed advocates to share the farm story.
“Farmers need to tell their story,” Lewis said, “so people who are not involved in agriculture understand how their lives are impacted by the food and fiber industry beyond their concerns about food safety.”
“We have had about 100 women participate in the two women’s tours so far,” Stanley said. “In addition, our other producer tours often consist of farm couples where the spouse is active in the farm operation, and they always seem to really enjoy learning what their Cotton Board fees are doing for their future in cotton production. We are well aware that most of our producers operate family farming operations, and every member of the family is involved and makes significant contributions to their success.”
Gorman said The Cotton Board would not be able to continue to do tours like this without the continued support of its sponsors. They include BASF, John Deere, Monsanto, and Syngenta. She said they hope to continue this program well into the future.
“We are planning to do the third Women in Agriculture Tour in 2017,” Gorman said. “The women on this year’s tour comprised current and future leaders in the cotton industry. Their perspectives and insight are invaluable to the continued success of the Cotton Research and Promotion Program. The cotton industry needs the type of leadership demonstrated by these women as we work to drive demand for cotton over the next 50 years.” She also said tours like the Women in Agriculture Tour are a great first step to becoming more involved in the industry.
“These tours are the best way to see your cotton assessment dollars at work,” Gorman said. “This is your program; you really should see the
great work that is being done on your behalf. Use the tour of Cotton Incorporated’s facility as a stepping stone to get more engaged and involved in the industry and to make some lasting relationships with the women you otherwise may not have met.”
Anyone who is interested in participating in the next Women in Agriculture Tour or other tours is encouraged to reach out to The Cotton Board. The 2017 Women in Agriculture Tour will be held June 25-27. If you would like to participate, contact Bob Stanley at firstname.lastname@example.org.