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Technology Forces Cotton Farmers to Adapt

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EDGECOMBE COUNTY — Technology has changed nearly everything around us. Most businesses need to re-train employees to keep them up with the technological changes that effect their jobs. But few industries are seeing as rapid a change as those dealing in cotton farming.

You can't be a good cotton farmer these days unless you're a good student and a fast learner.

"The cost of producing the cotton has become so narrow that it forces the producer to try and develop new production techniques at a more rapid rate," said cotton grower Henry Chancy.

"With those changes requires a lot of research, and of course, this is one of the reasons why we're having this field day today," explained Dr. Jack Batchlor, a cotton researcher.

In the past, university level research stayed ahead of new technologies in agriculture testing and refining them, and then bringing that knowledge and advice to the farmer. Today, new products reach the market faster, sometimes too fast.

"But what happens is the whole package gets out there, and we don't really know the agronomics behind it and how to manage that variety," said cotton crop consultant Billy McLawhorn.

McLawhorn represents a trend in cotton farming where farmers look for help to keep up with the changes.

"A lot of growers in say the last 10 years have started to hire consultants, and consultants currently account for about 40 percent of our acreage," said Batchlor

Despite the fast changes in technology and some of the confusion farmers have faced, the outlook for cotton has improved. Ultra Narrow Row, for example, holds the potential of cutting costs, but only works with the new technologies like genetically enhanced seeds. And that is good news for the environment, because the technologies promise less need for spraying chemicals.

"Twenty years ago, we typically put out about 30 pounds of active insecticide on the cotton," explained Batchlor. "We typically average 10 applications a year. Nowadays, we treat an average of two and a half times. We have just a whole different situation, and probably a lot of people aren't aware of that."