Organic Farmer of the Year goes to visionary organic cotton farmers who formed market collaboration
Thanks to a pioneering group of forward-thinking farmers, organic cotton production in Texas has expanded from virtually nothing in the early 1990s to over 20,000 acres in 2015, making the Texas High Plains the largest organic cotton-growing region in the United States.
In recognition of the group's hard work and organic vision, the farmers of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative (TOCMC) have been selected to receive the prestigious "Organic Farmer of the Year" Leadership Award from the Organic Trade Association (OTA) in ceremonies in September.
"The farmers of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative represent the best characteristics of organic farmers—extraordinary vision, commitment to a cleaner agriculture, and a strong collective spirit," said OTA CEO and Executive Director Laura Batcha. "OTA is thrilled to be recognizing these Texas organic cotton farmers for their significant contributions to the domestic organic cotton industry and to organic cotton production."
Surviving floods, sandstorms, droughts and Texas politics
In 1993, Texas farmers formed the cooperative when they realized they were producing more organic cotton than the market could absorb. Banding together, they began efforts to develop markets and to avoid being at the mercy of cotton brokers and merchants. Many of these early pioneers still are involved in promoting organic farming and educating the public about organic practices.
It hasn't always been easy. Over time, the cooperative has survived floods, sandstorms, hailstorms and droughts that destroyed as much as 70 percent of its crops some years. It has survived due to the farmers' personal commitment to organic production, the strength in its cooperative membership structure, and its vision for cleaner agricultural system.
The cooperative began with 30 farm families producing 1,400 organic bales and 4,900 transitional bales from about 5,000 acres in 1993. In 2015, its 50 farm family members harvested 14,000 organic bales and 1,200 transitional bales on over 20,000 acres. They produce 80 to 90 percent of the organic cotton grown in the United States.
"Without the firm commitment of the farmers of TOCMC through thick and thin times, the essential fiber needed to make hundreds of organic cotton textile products would simply not have been there to keep the industry alive. This steadfast supply line has also helped keep thousands of American jobs intact as well as contributing toward a cleaner environment both physically and as a metaphor for positive change," says Daniel Sanders, president of Spiritex.
Noting that TOCMC represents the only commercial growers of long staple certified organic cotton in the United States, Marc Chase, CEO of Native Organic Cotton, says, "These TOCMC farm families are the thin line guarding our top soil, air and water for generations to come."
Jane Dever, professor and cotton breeder at the Texas A& M AgriLife Research Center in Lubbock, TX, also points out their importance to growing and promoting organic cotton. "TOCMC farmer members successfully have advocated for the added value of organic fiber and seed feed to be recognized in U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency crop insurance formulas and, with little assistance from traditional research and extension outlets, developed technical practices that allow organic cotton yield and quality to compete, and often, exceed, conventional yields in comparable water situations."
"TOCMC farmers have been driving the organic cotton market for decades, succeeding in the face of adversity. They have quadrupled the amount of organic cotton under production in Texas, and educated countless companies in the U.S. and around the world about the value of growing cotton crops organically," said Marci Zaroff, OTA Board Member and founder of Under the Canopy and MetaWear.
Jimmy Wedel, President of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, and member of OTA's Farmer's Advisory Council, will be one of the farmers accepting the leadership award at the September 21 ceremony in Baltimore. "On behalf all the farmers who are a part of our Cooperative, I would like to thank OTA for recognizing our efforts and honoring us with this prestigious award. We have worked diligently for 23 years to maintain our integrity, be a reliable supplier, develop markets, and help educate our customers on the importance of using US grown organic cotton in their product line. Our farmer members and our staff have always held tightly to these principles, and we will strive to continue to do our very best," says Wedel.
The farmers of the Texas Organic Marketing Cotton Cooperative will be awarded the Organic Farmer of the Year award as one of the leadership awards presented at the Organic Trade Association's Annual Awards Celebration on Wednesday, September 21, in the kickoff event for Natural Products Expo East. For more information, visit OTA.com.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. OTA is the leading voice for the organic trade in the United States, representing over 8,500 organic businesses across 50 states. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA's Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members. OTA's mission is to promote and protect ORGANIC with a unifying voice that serves and engages its diverse members from farm to marketplace.