"I'm probably in awe of our fathers who grew cotton and had the foresight to start Cotton Incorporated. They had to look into the future and see how competitive this industry would be. Without Cotton Incorporated, a lot of U.S. cotton growers would not be able to compete. Some of us would not be growing cotton at all."

Those comments by Autaugaville, Ala., cotton grower Harold Gaines mirrored the feelings of most of the nearly 1,500 growers who visited Cotton Incorporated's new facilities in Cary, N.C., this year. Many of the growers, including Gaines, traveled in groups organized by the Cotton Board and was sponsored by Delta & Pine Land, Bayer, Aventis, Zeneca and Farm Press.

Money well spent

"After seeing the facilities and the people who work here, I'm convinced our cotton checkoff is money well spent," Gaines says. "If we are going to continue to produce cotton and be competitive in the world markets, these folks in this building are probably our lifeline. The research and promotion they are doing is what's going to help keep us in business."

Russell Wiggins, who farms with his grandfather and father in Andalusia, Ala., agrees. "I'm real impressed with the leadership Cotton Incorporated has taken worldwide, with producers, mills and consumers. I think the money I send to Cotton Incorporated through the Cotton Board is some of the best money I spend every year. I think any grower who visits here understands that Cotton Incorporated is one of the major reasons they are still in business. With reduced profit margins, it's more important than ever that we stay on the leading edge of technology."

Newton, Ga., cotton grower Tim Burch says he wishes the peanut industry had an organization like Cotton Incorporated.

"In the peanut industry it seems like everybody wants to toot their own horn. Cotton Incorporated and the whole cotton industry seems to want to work together for everybody's benefit," Burch says. "I'm impressed at how these people come up with an idea and develop it. Look at floor coverings and home interior fabrics. Just a few years ago cotton didn't have much of a share of that market. Now we're selling a lot of cotton for home furnishings.

Critical times

"When cotton prices are high we might not feel like we need Cotton Incorporated or anyone else working for us. But when we hit hard times like now, that's when these checkoff dollars are most important," he says.

Chuck Lee, from Pembroke, Ga., likes the message the new facilities sends to the textile industry.

"These beautiful new facilities represent cotton to a lot of people, just like the corporate headquarters for any other major business. These facilities and the people who work here show the world that U.S. cotton growers are here to stay and the U.S. cotton industry is strong and going to get stronger," Lee says.

Real excitement

Berrye Worsham, chief executive officer of Cotton Incorporated, praises cotton growers who have taken the time to travel to Cary to see the new facilities and to meet the employees. He also says the benefits of the new building are even greater than he and the board of directors had envisioned.

"We have gained a lot of physical space for the money," he says. "But beyond that, we are now much more efficient. We can run some programs simultaneously. Our fiber quality lab is more efficient. We can get more done in our textile services laboratory. The textile equipment industry recognizes that this is the leading textile research facility in the world.

"They want to have their equipment on display and in use here. We are able to get the latest textile technology at a very good price. That's a plus for growers and the entire industry.

"With several of our divisions from New York here in Cary, we are able to take research directly from our labs through our technical marketing group directly into the field. Now things move more quickly from research through our global product marketing team. We are creating new ideas for cotton and making sure what is existing is implemented. It's amazing to me how our board puts aside regional squabbles and focuses on what's good for cotton," Worsham says.

While Cotton Incorporated's doors are always open for growers who wish to visit, organized Beltwide tours like those organized by the Cotton Board would not be possible without commercial sponsors. Don Kimmel, vice president of sales and marketing for Delta & Pine Land Company urged his company to become the first tour sponsor back in 1997. He explains why.

"We as a company are no more successful than the cotton growers themselves," Kimmel says. "We know that even though the cotton industry is not in the strongest financial position right now, we are so much better off than we would be because of the efforts of Cotton Incorporated. We feel like the money we spend on these tours gives growers an opportunity to learn how their checkoff dollars are being spent and to under-stand how much Cotton Incorporated is doing for them.

"Almost every farmer who comes here goes back as an ambassador. They become more supportive of the program that keeps us more competitive worldwide. We're proud to be a sponsor," Kimmel says.

Jimmy Johnson with Bayer echoes Kimmel's feelings.

"Our sponsorship of these tours is one of the most important contributions we can make to the industry," Johnson says. "Growers are making a large investment and they are getting a tremendous return. This is one way we can give a little something back to the growers.

"A lot of growers have had the attitude that the checkoff is a tax. When they participate in this tour, they realize that this is really an investment in their future. They see the innovations Cotton Incorporated is developing, like the module builder, cotton carpets and now non-woven products like disposable diapers. I encourage every cotton grower to contact their Cotton Board field representative and take advantage of these tours. There's no better way to see first hand what Cotton Incorporated is doing to strengthen the U.S. cotton industry and make it possible for U.S. cotton growers to stay competitive in world markets," Johnson says.