Bruce Heiden of Buckeye, Ariz., has turned over the chairmanship to Kern County, Calif., producer Charles Fanucchi of Bakersfield, who is the 10th chairman in the 76-year history of the 1,500-member cooperative that marketed almost 40 percent of the California and Arizona cotton crop last season.

Heiden called his tenure "challenging at times." It was more like tumultuous for the quiet Arizonan who has been the point man in what seemed like one firestorm after another during his chairmanship.

And much of it is directly related to the collapse of the world cotton market that saw prices peak in 1995 at $1.12 per pound only to tumble to an unbelievable 28 cents per pound in 2001.

Without strong federal farm legislation, California and Arizona’s cotton industry most certainly would have collapsed, and Heiden would have become Calcot’s last chairman.

The strong American dollar and the collapse of the Asian economy drove income from exports to unprofitable levels; trade agreements between the U.S. and other nations have literally destroyed the U.S. textile industry, and Western cotton acreage has plummeted.

Calcot’s directors tried to bolster falling cotton volume by getting into the almond business, but that failed. "I still think it would have worked," but the "timing was wrong" for Calcot to get into the almond business, Heiden said.

Overpayment problem

Overpayment of advances three years ago as a result of the market free fall was another challenge Heiden faced during his tenure. Those overpayments were repaid within two years.

Heiden was chairman with the fourth (Tom Smith), fifth (David Farley) and the sixth (Robert Norris) presidents of the cooperative now in its seventh decade.

In his farewell address, Heiden acknowledged that the board’s actions during his tenure produced successes and failures. However, he had no real regrets, save one. Hiring Farley.

"I wish we had hired Bob. I am happy he remained at Calcot, and I have great confidence in Bob and his team," said Heiden.

The Arizona cotton farmer said he could not go into the details of Farley’s firing because of legal ramifications except to say that the board became "uncomfortable" with Farley’s management, "so uncomfortable that the board decided to make a change sooner than later.

"There is no doubt in my mind that we made the right decision," said Heiden.

While acknowledging that the federal farm program has allowed him and his peers to stay in business, "I believe the time will come when cotton prices rebound and cotton will become profitable without dependence on the federal farm program."

Heiden leaves Calcot with cotton prices rebounding and full confidence in the Calcot staff.

"Looking back over the past eight years — would I do it again — sure," said Heiden, who will continue as a Calcot director.

Fanucchi comes from a farm established by his father in the 1920s. He has served on the board since 1991 and moves into the chairmanship from vice-chairman.

He was replaced in that position by Casa Grande, Ariz., cotton producer Colin L. "Bill" Scott. Jean Sagouspe of Los Banos, Calif., was re-elected to the other vice chairmanship.

e-mail:hcline@primediabusiness.com