I felt more optimism at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences this year, which were held in San Antonio in early January. Maybe it was the unexpected May weather. By the second day of the conference, the mercury hit almost 80 degrees, which I'm sure put more than a few producers there in the mood for burning a little diesel.
The city of San Antonio can uplift one's spirit — even if your allergies are clobbered by the plague of the mountain cedar tree, as mine were. A visit to the Alamo reminds us that this region could very well belong to another country if not for the courage of a handful of men who dreamed of Texas independence.
A historical marker along the San Antonio River Walk conveyed the entrepreneurial courage of Robert Hugman, who in the 1940s came up with an idea of converting the occasionally-wild San Antonio River into a unique tourist attraction. His plan was met with scorn in the 1940s, but nearly 70 years later, the San Antonio River Walk brings in $3 billion annually to San Antonio businesses.
Maybe my optimism comes from the waiter at Mi Terria Mexican restaurant, who gave us an oral history of how the founders, Pete and Cruz Cortez, opened a three-table café in 1941 for early-rising farmers and workers from San Antonio's nearby markets, with a stake of $250.
Sixty-eight years later, Mi Tierra is San Antonio's most popular Mexican restaurant, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Cortezes went on to open two more restaurants in the city, and today employ over 600 people.
The High Cotton award winner for the Mid-South, Jason Luckey, is another reason for optimism. Each year, Jason sees neighboring towns and cities inch closer and closer to his farmland. But Jason sees this encroachment as his opportunity to educate those in his community about agriculture. With Jason's help, the voice of agriculture will be heard for many years to come.
Tim Price, executive vice president of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association, is optimistic about cotton ginning despite falling acreage. The ginning industry, although it has suffered through some consolidation and closings, still has the capacity to process a large cotton crop. Price points out that the cotton industry has always found a way to persevere through down years.
There are other positives. Producers are starting to realize that higher prices for cottonseed could mean a nice bump to their gross income. And fuel and fertilizer prices are showing some signs of abating as the growing season approaches.
The Beltwide Cotton Conferences are typically considered the beginning of the cotton growing season, chocked full of information on new varieties, technologies, chemicals and management techniques to help a producer get a head start on a successful and profitable growing season.
It is also a time when cotton producers commit to another year in this business. In the short-term, factors like weather, the markets and production costs may determine how much cotton goes in the ground. But long-term, the industry depends on producers who believe in cotton's future. Pollen aside, a perceptible bullish spirit was in the air at Beltwide this year.