One of agriculture’s great success stories celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The longevity, and the myriad of outstanding achievements of the Cotton Research and Promotion Act are a tribute to the vision of American cotton farmers and industry leaders who developed and won government approval for the landmark self-help program.

The $1 per bale voluntary assessment from growers (in recent years supplemented by contributions from cotton importers) established Cotton Incorporated and has funded research that has given farmers better varieties, new equipment and technologies, improved production methods, and award-winning promotion programs that have crafted an image of superior quality, fashion, and wearability in the minds of consumers worldwide.

Among the milestones from CI research: the module builder that revolutionized cotton harvesting and handling; the module feeder, which made ginning more efficient; the Engineered Fiber Selection system to assist with cotton inventory management; EasiFlo cottonseed; and wrinkle-resistant finishing, 100 percent woven stretch, Tough Cotton, endure, and other finishing processes to make cotton fabrics more appealing to consumers.

“From dirt to shirt” became the undergirding motto of the organization’s efforts that focused on mechanization, fiber and seed quality, planting and cultivation, ginning techniques, spinning improvements, biotechnology, and the development of innovative promotion and marketing programs.

Along the way, CI opened offices in strategic locations around the globe — Mexico City, Osaka, Singapore, and Shanghai — with specialists knocking on doors to promote cotton and to help mills and manufacturers solve problems and refine techniques to make the best use of cotton. For a decade now, it has had a management team in China, the world’s largest user of cotton and exporter of textile products.

And in 2000, after decades of scattered offices and testing facilities in the Raleigh area, CI moved into its state of the art world headquarters at Cary, N.C. Consumer marketing operations continue out of New York City.

The Cotton Seal, introduced in 1974, is now one of the most-recognized logos on the planet, right up there with Coca-Cola, Kodak, and others that have been established much, much longer. An ongoing series of brilliantly creative TV commercials — “Cotton, The Fabric of Our Lives” being one of the most memorable — have further enhanced the image of the natural fiber.

So successful has been the Cotton Research and Promotion Program that it is considered a model for producer-supported operations. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns announced recently that, based on a five-year review by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, no referendum would be needed for renewal of the program.

Fast Company magazine, in its annual search for leaders, innovators, and pioneers has named Cotton Incorporated to its 2007 “Fast 50” companies making a difference in the world. Thousands of entries were received for a Who’s Who of names: Nike, General Electric, Home Depot, etc.

“Our goal is to remind the world of all the good that’s created when passionate people with big ideas and strong convictions are determined to make a difference,” the magazine’s editors said, citing the “global implications” in use of gossypol-free cottonseed to make a protein-rich meal to aid in reducing world hunger.

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com