As the saying goes, “Two heads are better than one.” This certainly holds true when it comes to the critical partnership between public and private sectors. Several times a year the Commodity Roundtable brings together leaders from many of USDA’s national research and promotion programs and marketing orders, which play a vital role in helping our nation maintain one of the strongest agricultural sectors in the world.
At the most recent Commodity Roundtable meeting in Memphis, TN, I was impressed by the open dialog and the leaders’ deep commitment to supporting America’s farmers and ranchers. Members discussed best practices and strategic plans that will help their respective industries succeed and grow, thanks in part to a commitment to diverse leadership, viewpoints and opinions.
My agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), works closely with these groups. While the formation of the programs is driven and funded by the industries, USDA’s role is selecting board members and making sure that resources are used appropriately. The groups decide how to successfully market their products, often with the help of popular campaigns and slogans such as Cotton: The Fabric of our Lives®. As a result of this successful partnership, producers have seen significant returns on their investments. For example, for each dollar the cotton industry invests into their research and promotion program, they get a return of $8.80.
Outside of the Roundtable, I saw innovative thinking and technological advances in action. New efficiencies have improved cotton harvesting, as pickers can now place the cotton in modules without having to use a separate module machine. This improvement streamlines the process of getting the cotton to the gin. I also visited a gin where cotton fibers are separated from seeds before the raw fibers, or lint, is compacted into 500-pound bales for packaging, storing and shipping. It was amazing to see first-hand the beginning of what may eventually be used in t-shirts or blue jeans.
Continuing my journey of seeing how cotton goes from “dirt to shirt,” I visited the AMS Cotton and Tobacco Program Headquarters. As part of our commitment to helping American businesses market the quality of their products, AMS employees grade almost all of the cotton produced in the United States. Using a fascinating automated process, this office is able to measure the sample quality, examining different factors such as fiber length and strength. Remarkably, one of our offices is able to make 8 to 10 different fiber measurements in 30 seconds and grade close to 50,000 samples a day.
Overseeing research and promotion boards, administering marketing orders and providing grading services are just a few of the ways AMS serves the American agriculture industry. We are committed to working with our partners to find new markets for our nation’s producers and businesses so that their products can be enjoyed all over the world.