Shane Stephens says the first few weeks of his tenure since he was elected chairman of the National Cotton Council at its annual meeting in Dallas in February have been quite busy.
Anyone familiar with the Council’s activities knows that’s an understatement given the economic climate the U.S. cotton industry is facing due to low cotton prices, high input costs and legislative, regulatory and trade issues in Washington and overseas.
“The Council has been very active on numerous fronts,” said Stephens, speaking at the spring meeting of the American Cotton Producers in Birmingham, Ala. “Our primary focus has been on successfully addressing the economic challenges that face our industry.
“With the 2015 cotton acreage being the lowest in more than 30 years; exports being the smallest in 15 years; and prices being as low as they’ve been since the 2009 recession the industry has concentrated its efforts on USDA, seeking secretarial designation of cottonseed as another oilseed for eligibility under the 2014 farm bill ARC and PLC programs.”
Stephens said the industry built a broad base of support within Congress and also generated support for the program within the agricultural lending community and other commodity groups. Industry leaders also helped place more than 60 “op ed” articles in newspapers across the country.
'Challenging and drawn out effort'
“While those efforts have not yet produced the results we want, we knew this was likely to be a challenging and drawn out effort,” he said. “As a result, we are continuing to demonstrate the financial need that exists in the countryside and are working closely with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran and other friends in Congress to seek this designation.”
Cotton Council leaders have also been seeking short-term assistance in meetings with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and his staff.
Stephens was one of a long list of speakers who addressed the American Cotton Producers, the organization that represents the Council’s producer segment, on a broad range of issues which some believe are among the most challenging to ever confront the cotton industry.
Despite those challenges, the state and regional producer representatives attending the meeting said they expect cotton plantings to be up in the areas in 2016. Only the Southeast, which faced drought and flood conditions at different times in 2015, indicated an acreage decline.
The Mid-South or Delta states are expected to see the largest percentage increases, according to their representatives. Arkansas is expected to be up 57 percent from 210,000 acres in 2015 to 330,000 in 2016; Louisiana, up 30 percent from 115,000 to 150,000; Mississippi, up 40 percent from 320,000 to 450,000; and Tennessee, up 30 percent to 245,000. (Missouri did not have a representative at the meeting.)
Return of prevented planted
South Texas is expected to reach 700,000 as prevented planted acres from last year return to cotton; the Rolling Plains is expected to plant 1.25 million and the High Plains could seed between 3.5 million and 3.8 million acres, according to Texas representatives.
In the Far West, Arizona could plant 135,000; California, 206,000; and New Mexico 41,000. Arizona and California’s acreage would be up while New Mexico’s would be almost even with last year’s.
“Some of the growers in our traditional cotton-growing areas just learned they will receive 5 percent of their normal allocation of irrigation water so we’re not sure what will happen in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Mark McKean of Riverdale, Calif.
To learn more about the National Cotton Council, visit www.cotton.org.