Cotton producers learn from peers It's the same, but different. That's the sentiment expressed by several of the farmers who participated in the National Cotton Council's Producer Information Exchange (PIE) tour through the Mid-South this summer.

While their geographical locations may differ, farmers from the Southwest and the Mid-South participating in the PIE tours found that, when it comes to farming, they have much in common.

Farmers from both regions are currently struggling with low commodity prices and ever-increasing production input costs. Farmers, wherever they are located, often share a common foe in the weather. Uncooperative weather patterns were especially troublesome this year as producers across the Sunbelt waited for most of the summer for a respite from the prolonged drought.

"The Southwest is another world in a lot of ways, but when it comes to growing cotton, it's also the same in a lot of ways," says Ray Makamson of Itta Bena, Miss.

The Leflore County cotton grower was a participant in the producer exchange program in 1994 and has since made his farm available to the cotton farmers visiting each year from other cotton-growing regions of the country.

Among the visiting cotton producers touring Makamson's farm this year was Monroe Dierschke of Wall, Texas. "Normally, I couldn't afford to take time away from my farming operation this late in the growing season," says Dierschke. "But, thanks to the drought this summer, my schedule is considerably lighter during harvest this year."

Dierschke, who farms all dryland cotton, says that despite his dismal crop outlook this year, the networking he was able to establish with other growers on the tour from his region was invaluable to him.

"The Producer Information Exchange program allows cotton farmers like me to share ideas with farmers from other parts of the country," Makamson says. "At the same time, it's a great way to get to know some other farmers from your region that you may not have had the chance to meet before."

Dierschke agrees. "Before joining the tour this year, I only knew one of the cotton farmers participating in the tour from my area. This tour has provided me with the tremendous opportunity to really get to know a first-class group of farmers from my part of the country.

"I've really enjoyed the time we've spent traveling together on the bus, and I've learned more from the other producers on the tour than I ever could have imagined," he says.

"This is not a normal tour," says Ed Cherry, manager of government regulations and agribusiness affairs in Washington, D.C., for tour sponsor FMC Corporation. "We're not trying to sell these growers anything. This is simply an opportunity for them to share their production experiences with other cotton growers."

"They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the impressions Ray Makam-son's farm provides these visiting farmers are very good. He's a stickler for detail and his efficiency is evident in his well-cared for crop fields and production equipment. That attention to detail is more important in this day and age than ever," Cherry says.

What the Producer Information Exchange does, Cherry says, is to help break down any regional barriers that exist between the different cotton-growing areas. "Breaking down these geographical barriers helps the cotton industry, as a whole, in political maneuvering." And that political maneuvering, he says, is the only way the cotton industry and agriculture as a whole are going to survive.

The Producer Information Exchange Tour is a National Cotton Council program that is supported by FMC Corporation through a grant to the Cotton Foundation.

According to the National Cotton Council, the P.I.E. program will have exposed more than 500 cotton producers from the Southeast, the Mid-South and the Southwest, to innovative production practices in regions different than their own.

"The overall aim of the P.I.E. program is to help America's cotton producers become more efficient by speeding up their adoption of proven technology and innovative farming methods," says David Burns, a North Carolina cotton producer who serves as president of The Cotton Foundation. "With all the demands of sorting out data created by this information age, the face-to-face communication opportunities afforded by the P.I.E. program are invaluable."

"FMC continues to be very excited to sponsor the cotton P.I.E. program, which is now in its 12th year," says Cherry. "We have received valuable feedback from the key cotton growers who participate in this program. This input has helped our technical staff as they work to bring new technology to the market."