William B. Dunavant Jr. was standing in the media room at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show last March, waiting for reporters to ask him questions about his latest predictions on the cotton market.
Dunavant, CEO of Dunavant Enterprises Inc., had just given what was billed as his last speech at the Gin Show. The former National Cotton Council president had announced his retirement at the Beltwide Conference a few weeks earlier.
Tim Price, executive vice president of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association, sponsors of the Gin Show, asked Dunavant if he would consider coming back again in 2006. To the surprise of Price and the editors and broadcasters standing around him, Dunavant said yes.
So that's how Dunavant came to be speaking, once again, to a near-capacity crowd at the Gin Show. And that's how NCC leaders found themselves being criticized by a former president.
In his opening remarks, Dunavant confessed to telling a “white lie” at last year's Gin Show when he said that would be the last time he would offer his annual analysis of the cotton industry.
While his retirement as CEO of Dunavant Enterprises had relaxed the pressures of making moment-to-moment decisions, he said he continues to follow the industry, including focusing on what direction his company should take in the next 20 years.
As he finished his comments, Dunavant noted that self-esteem is important to most people, including himself. And, he said, the Cotton Council had damaged his self-esteem because of the outdoor storage issue in west Texas.
Normally, cotton in the Commodity Credit Corp. loan must be stored in approved warehouses. But last year's west Texas crop was so large, USDA allowed a portion of it to be stored outside.
Dunavant clearly was upset about that and said the Council did not represent the merchant sector “very well” in the outdoor storage issue.
“I served as Council president in 1988,” he said, “And I've always tried to do what was best for the seven segments (of the industry.) It's been tough at times. It's hard to agree with producers when you serve as president.”
He's not the first merchant to say it, but Dunavant says the Council now has four, not seven segments: producers, ginners, co-operatives and warehouses. “Those are the big revenue makers for the Council. I respect and appreciate that. But everyone here must know that when all seven of us worked together, we accomplished a lot more than when we went our separate ways.”
Dunavant said he believes the four Council segments he mentioned need to “step forward, be recognized and try to pull the Council together. Without a serious balance over the next few years, the Council will not be what it has been over the years.”
When he went to the media room this year, Dunavant was conciliatory. “I hope I didn't upset anyone at the Council,” he said. NCC leaders said they had no comment.