What does cotton want in the next farm bill? “To boil it all down, we want to be back in Title 1, on a somewhat equivalent basis to the other covered commodities,” says Craig Brown, vice president for producer affairs for the National Cotton Council.“There’s a lot of work to be done” as work picks up pace on the 2018 farm bill, he said at the joint annual meeting of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation and the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Cotton Policy Committee.
“It’s going to be a very busy summer and fall for cotton policy development. That process will be as transparent as we can make it, and it’s important that we have our act together within the cotton industry and in cooperation with other organizations that are concerned about cotton policy. We’ll continue to work closely with state Farm Bureaus, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and other organizations that will be participating in this overall farm bill debate that’s going to face budget, philosophical, and timing challenges.
“We’ve got the leadership in place, and we have the research and analytical capabilities to develop a program that can get us back into Title 1. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) has pledged that cotton will be back in Title 1, but how that will be done and what it will look like are details to be worked out.”
FOCUS ON SHORT-TERM ECONOMIC RELIEF
The 2018 legislation is going to be “a huge challenge,” Brown says. “I didn’t think any bill could be any harder than the last one, but this one may top that.” While there was disappointment in not being able to get the NCC-backed cottonseed amendment included in last December’s omnibus spending bill, he says, “Our focus continues to be on short-term economic relief.”
The cottonseed-as-an-other-crop amendment would’ve provided a bridge program from the 2014 farm bill, “building baseline and economic support for cotton producers until we got to the 2018 farm bill.” While he says that “still isn’t out of the question,” there is potential for “other legislative opportunities, and we’ll be ready to take advantage of them if they develop.
“If we can’t get any relief on the cottonseed amendment, we’re asking Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the Trump administration to authorize gin cost share assistance, similar to what we had in 2015, as an economic bridge to the next farm bill. That effort is under way in earnest. We’ve met with Secretary Perdue, and he has advised that it’s going to be tough sledding, given the overall budget pressures we’re facing. He has advised us to work through the administration, from the top down, and that’s what we’re doing.
LETTERS TO WHITE HOUSE
“We’ve got several processes going on right now, including a bipartisan Senate letter to the White House, asking for gin cost share assistance — not just for this year, but until we get to the next farm bill. That letter has 25 signatures and has been presented to the White House. A similar letter in the House has 105 signatures and has been delivered to the White House.”
Letters from Senate and House members, as well as from agribusinesses and lenders and cotton/commodity organizations, have been delivered to the White House asking President Trump and the administration to provide short-term economic assistance to cotton producers.
An industry effort to impress on Congress and the administration the need for economic assistance for U.S. cotton has generated a 50-page letter with over 1,600 signatures of agribusinesses and agricultural lenders across the cotton belt. That letter also has been presented to the White House, Brown says. “These are cotton and cotton-related businesses that rely on a viable U.S. cotton industry.”
Additionally, there is a fourth letter signed by cotton interest organizations and other commodity interest organizations. “All these efforts are focused on getting our message to the White House: ‘Let the Secretary of Agriculture use his authority for a gin cost share program to give cotton some short term economic assistance.” Individual efforts targeted to specific members of Congress and the administration are also under way, Brown says. The Senate has already begun hearings on the next farm bill, he notes, and the House Agriculture Committee is holding listening sessions, “and we’re participating in these to provide cotton’s input.”
PRODUCERS DEVELOPING RECOMMENDATIONS
The American Cotton Producers organization has “a very intense” effort under way, Brown says, to develop recommendations that will be forwarded to the National Cotton Council’s board of directors regarding U.S. cotton’s position in the 2018 farm bill. While cottonseed may be a part of the recommendations, “if a legislative vehicle should become available, the cottonseed initiative is not necessarily the position we would advocate for the next farm bill.
“We have a Farm Policy Task Force that has already been meeting, and the American Cotton Producers will be directly involved in the process of developing a cotton position for the next farm bill. We’re evaluating concepts and ideas to see how they might fit into what’s possible, because it doesn’t do any good to have a policy and goals if they have no chance of being passed or funded. We have to be practical and develop something within the bounds of what’s doable.”
The assumption is, Brown says, “that we’ll have a very similar type of program in the 2018 farm bill as in the 2014 legislation —a PLC/ARC decoupled program approach. If that changes, we’ll adapt as necessary. We’re working very closely with the House Agriculture Committee — the House generally leads the effort in farm policy development. Chairman Mike Conaway has been very good to work with, as well as other committee members from cotton belt states.”
KEEPING MARKETING LOAN A KEY GOAL
In developing policy for cotton that fits in the mold of a PLC/ARC program, Brown says the industry is still evaluating what type of program structure that would provide meaningful support.”
“Obviously, we want to maintain the marketing loan for cotton and are discussing levels. We would like for cotton farmers to have the ability to update their program yields, as was the case for other program crops in the 2014 farm bill. A big question, Brown says: “What kind of base will we have? A decoupled program is dependent on its base. We’re all familiar with generic base and how it’s working in the 2014 farm bill. That’s going to be the basis on which we try to establish whatever cotton structure we have as far as base acres. We believe generic base will get converted to a decoupled covered commodity base in the 2018 farm bill.”