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Best of NAMA 2020

Tom Jagodinski
Editor's Note: W. Thomas Jagodinski "Jag" has served as president and chief executive officer of Delta and Pine Land Company (D&PL), Scott, Miss., since September 2002. Jag has been with the company since 1991 in several capacities, including senior vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer. Delta and Pine Land Company is the world's leading cotton seed company with offices in eight states and facilities in several countries.

AM: What are the big issues facing cotton producers this growing season? How does the crop look?

Weather always seems to hit at least one area of the Cotton Belt, and this year is no different. Arizona, California, Texas and parts of the Southeast and Mid-South were adversely affected by weather this year. In these areas, many acres had to be replanted, and we believe that several hundred thousand acres of picker cotton did not get planted at all.

Ongoing challenges for U.S. cotton producers include the lack of available financing, the deteriorating U.S. textile industry and the continuing assault by some members of Congress (and most recently The New York Times) on the 2002 Farm Bill. On a positive note, the world carryover cotton will decline over the next year, as evidenced by a strengthening of fiber prices over those of a year ago.

AM: How was the year for D&PL in terms of sales and product performance?

Our sales of picker products were lower than anticipated, resulting from reduced planted acreage from the wet, cold spring. However, we have created quite a buzz in the industry with our new varieties, particularly DP 555 BG/RR, DP 444 BG/RR and DP 494 RR. Farmers are finding D&PL offers a wide range of varieties that can perform well in various conditions. They have a lot of choices within our product line and are creating a balance of agronomic characteristics and technologies that fit their individual farms.

AM: What is the attitude toward growth and profitability of technology for the cotton market?

The cotton industry was the first to wholeheartedly embrace technology. Our company made a major commitment to biotechnology early on and continues to sustain that commitment, and cotton farmers revolutionized their farms with the rapid adoption of genetic traits. Producers tell us that as other traits offering them similar or increased value are introduced, they will again modify their practices to adopt those technologies that positively impact their bottom line.

AM: What has been the impact of technology on the cotton industry and D&PL's response or lead in these changes? What are the critical issues D&PL must address to maintain its leadership position?

There are a few technologies that have dramatically impacted our industry. I just mentioned the role of transgenic varieties, and we believe we have barely tapped the potential available to the cotton industry. As a result, we are investing in this arena both as a partner with technology companies currently developing traits and on a joint venture basis with Verdia. We have additional insecticide and herbicide traits in development that have been announced to the market, and we are evaluating other traits.

While biotechnology has offered great breakthroughs in cotton, there are other developments that are as significant and have received less attention. The genetic breakthroughs that are beginning to be introduced to the market have been in development for a decade or so. Our breeder network has accessed global germplasm to make wide, diverse crosses, and the benefits of that on yield potential, fiber quality potential and characteristics such as disease resistance are striking.

To make sure we stay on top of this, over the past three years, we have added new or expanded our existing research programs and facilities, including work on molecular breeding. We have also created a global testing program unmatched in the industry that helps us identify promising strains.

AM: How has D&PL's marketing approach changed to serve a more sophisticated cotton producer?

As the farmers who plant our products became more technically oriented, our business has evolved to better serve them. In the past year alone, we have unveiled a redesigned Web site, providing product, technical and distributor information, and we announced a move to seed count packaging that farmers tell us they want. We will continue to evaluate new traits, products and services that we may offer to farmers. AM

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