Carl Pepper farms 1,295 hectares of organic cotton in Texas, USA, and is Vice President of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Co-operative. Liesl Truscott, Farm Engagement Director at Textile Exchange, spent a day with Carl on the farm and he explained his approach to organic farming:
I am an economic environmentalist. Most things that are good for the soil are economically smart too. You’ve got to look at the long term too, sometimes if you make a short term decision that is pushed by finance, you can hurt yourself long term. It’s got to fit both worlds it’s got to be economically sustainable and agriculturally sustainable.
But surely organic farming uses much more manual labour than conventional farming, isn’t that expensive?
I spend on manual labour hoeing about what the other guys spend on technology and chemicals. That’s a trade-off the increased risk at harvest [of not using chemicals to assist] may mean that my hoe bill may double or triple, that’s why the [organic] premiums got to be there so I can afford to pull myself out of a problem situation.
And what about the cost of organic certification?
It costs around a dollar and a half per acre so it’s not really that big a deal – $4500 for my farms. I get a visit every year, they do tissue tests, a spot inspection, tracking the marketing and so on.
Carl says organic farming is a matter of pride:
I can’t stand weeds my wife says I go ploughing for vanity. I want a guy to be able to drive down this highway and not be able to say hey, that guy’s crops are the pits because he’s organic. I want mine to be equal to or better than anything around I am proud to farm organically.
Price is a vital issue, and Carl says you need a strong incentive:
Right now, we’re running about 50 cents a pound above conventional. The West Texas organic cotton growers need that 50 cent premium to keep going there’s got to be a payoff for all the headaches, the frustrations of dealing with the neighbours, the production issues.
It’s very much a two-way loyalty, from buyer to farmer and from farmer to buyer, even to the extent of expelling those who break the rules from the co-operative:
When things [in prices] went nuts last year, there was conventional cotton selling for more than organic cotton. We had a couple of guys [in the co-operative] pull cotton out and sell it on the conventional market because they didn’t want to wait. We booted them out of the co-op they said what about next year, but we said there ain’t no next year, you’re gone. It’s a vertical agreement Anvil, our end buyers, deserve our supply. There’s a colloquial saying dance with the one that brought you to the dance and they’re the ones that got us here. As growers, we sat in a Board meeting and said, we don’t like it, but if this is the price that is what it takes for Anvil to survive, we’re going to live with it. My neighbour sells his conventional cotton and has no idea who bought it, where it went, there’s no relationship, there’s no commitment, it’s a blind deal, it creates a battle over price.
Carl concludes that it’s all about talking together and trust:
We know where it’s going. We want Anvil to be in business, and we want to be in business. Now how do we all keep that thing going?
For full version of Carls story please visit: https://farmhub.textileexchange.org/learning-zone/organic-in-action/story-no-8
For TOCMC’s producer profile please visit: https://farmhub.textileexchange.org/find-a-producer/producer-group?producer=f3988ba2-0fe6-4214-a20f-fcf2e2abd998