The National Cotton Council has initiated another unique educational program — and it was deemed a major success by the participants and the hosts.

The Multi-Commodity Education Program (MCEP) was launched Oct. 23-27 when producers from the Midwest/Far West traveled to North Carolina to observe cotton production/processing and other agricultural operations. The schedule was developed by NCC staff in cooperation with local organizations and leaders and the trip was coordinated by NCC’s Member Services.

The program is supported by The Cotton Foundation with grants from Deere & Company and Monsanto.

The exchange between commodity producers in the Sunbelt and the Midwest/Far West regions is designed to provide current and emerging producer leaders with: 1) a better understanding of production issues/concerns faced by their peers in another geographic region and 2) an opportunity to observe agronomic practices, technology utilization, cropping patterns, marketing plans and operational structure.

“This program provides producer leaders from regions with significantly different cropping patterns, production practices and climates an opportunity to visit farms and facilities in other regions and to meet their peers in settings that facilitate the exchange of information,” said NCC Chairman Allen Helms, a Clarkedale, Ark., cotton producer.

“We believe this will contribute to a better understanding and strengthen communications between farmers regardless of their crop mix or the location of their operation. Ideally, the program will facilitate development of strong and lasting relationships between current and future producer leaders of American agriculture.”

The first session of what is planned to be a long running program took place in the Raleigh, N.C., area and began with a welcome and briefing by North Carolina Cotton Producer’s Association President David Dunlow, NCC staff and program sponsors.

The group toured the Cotton Incorporated headquarters in Cary where they were briefed by CEO Berrye Worsham and his staff. They also toured Cotton Incorporated’s labs to learn about the process of converting fiber to fabric.

The group received an overview of North Carolina agriculture from local growers including visits to operations of Max Denning (tobacco, peanuts and cotton), Gerald Warren (swine), Tull Farms (sweet potatoes) and the Sampson County gin operated by Wayne Smith.

The four-day program included a tour of Hanesbrands (formerly National Textiles) and peanut production and processing facilities.

The group also met and discussed cotton storage, flow and marketing with several graduates of the NCC’s Cotton Leadership Class, including Coalter Paxton at the Paxton Bonded Warehouse; Cargill Cotton’s Robert Buckles and Mike Quinn of the Carolinas Cotton Growers Association.

One afternoon, the visiting wheat, feedgrain and oilseed producers were hosted by local growers and given tours of their farming operations. The group also visited Monsanto’s research facility in Mount Olive and the John Deere dealership in Winterville.

Staff members from the North Dakota Grain Growers Association also attended the North Carolina tour in preparation for a session in 2007 that will provide an opportunity for cotton, rice and peanut producers from the Sunbelt to visit their counterparts in the Midwest and Far West. The Sunbelt growers will observe grain/oilseeds production and see renewable fuel facilities and livestock operations.

One of the North Carolina hosts, Max Denning, a diversified farmer in Benson, said the MCEP participants asked a lot of questions that fueled good discussion on topics ranging from the challenge of no-till farming in the Midwest to the average age of farmers and the importance of creating incentives for people to continue farming and to attract young people to become farmers.

Denning, who is a Cotton Leadership Program graduate, too, said that he also discussed the challenge that he and other farmers in his area have of finding seasonal workers for their labor intensive operations.