Texas Organic Cotton, Y'all

I recently got to meet a real, live Texas Organic Cotton Farmer!

Here's what he said...

(video below)

Texas Organic Cotton y'all cotton growth

Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative (TOCMC)


Evan Brooke: So who are you? What do you do? And what’s the Co-Op?

Kelly Pepper: Well, I’m Kelly Pepper and I’m the staff manager of the Co-Op. I’m one of two employees of the Co-Op that handle the marketing of the organic cotton grown  by our members and then the administrative duties of the Co-Op. I was a conventional farmer originally and then an organic farmer. And I have an accounting education and small business experience. So, I combine all that in managing the Co-Op and it’s been a very pleasant experience. 

Our Co-Op has about 35 members that produce most of the (organic) cotton grown in the United States. So, the Co-Op was formed in 1993 and many of the founding members are still actively involved on the board of directors. The members were some of the kind of pioneers in the organic cotton industry as it developed and evolved in the United States.

Evan Brooke: What is Organic Cotton?

Kelly Pepper: The standards prohibit the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, defoliants, as well as GMO seeds. The standards also require doing things to improve the health of the soil, like using crop rotations and cover crops.

Evan Brooke: What about weeds? How do y’all control weeds?

Kelly Pepper: Well weeds are the biggest issue that our farmers deal with from a production standpoint. It is absolutely essential that they control the weeds with mechanical tillage.

Evan Brooke: How do you find people to help work the fields?

Kelly Pepper: That can be a problem. Labor is key for our farmers. So, their attitude is to pay top wages, treat people right, and get the best employees that are out there. And take care of them and keep them for a long time. Because organic farming does require more labor than non-organic, it’s just a critical part of the operation.

Evan Brooke: So, how much cotton is grown in Texas and how much of that is organic?

Kelly Pepper: In recent years there’s been between five and six million acres of cotton grown in the state of Texas. Of that, less than half of one percent is organic. Some people laughingly like to say if you round the numbers it’s zero. Texas organic farmers have grown between 14 and 18 thousand acres of organic cotton in recent years. And those acres have produced between 6 and 14 thousand bales of organic cotton. The production varies greatly because of weather, especially rainfall. 70% or so of the acres are not irrigated and the production varies greatly depending on how much rain there is. That variability of quantity of supply creates marketing issues obviously.

Evan Brooke: How much cotton gets lost due to not using pesticides?

Kelly Pepper: Well, we are blessed in the high plains of Texas that insects are not a big problem. And so our farmers basically don’t worry about insects. And in most years, they may suffer a little bit of lost due to insects. But in general, if you leave it alone the beneficial insects will take care of the problems that come along and it’s not a major problem.

Texas Organic Cotton fields and windmills

Evan Brooke: What’s your passion for expanding organic cotton here in the U.S.?

Kelly Pepper: I’m passionate about U.S. production not only at the farm level but on the manufacturing level, creating jobs here at home for the textile industry. And so, not just selfishly for the Co-Op and it’s farmers, but for the U.S. manufacturing. I would love to see it grow and procreating jobs for Americans. But the reality at this point in time is you can’t buy U.S. cotton, manufacture a product in the U.S., and be price competitive with something that’s being imported from India.

Evan Brooke: What’s it going to take then?

Kelly Pepper: Well, that’s a much bigger economic, global question than I have an answer for. 

I’m excited, Evan, about what you’re doing in trying to start up a program using our cotton and manufacturing it in the U.S.! We just really want to support what you’re doing and what others are doing similarly to build the textile industry back up in the U.S. and create jobs here at home for our people.

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