Cottonseed designation a risky proposition?

National Cotton Council leaders have a “tough row to hoe,” but they’ve not giving up on their nearly year-old effort to have cottonseed designated as an “other oilseed,” making cotton producers eligible for Price Loss Coverage under the 2014 farm bill.

Members of the NCC’s board of directors were reminded of just how long that row may be during comments at their mid-year meeting by Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., who chairs the House Ag Committee’s General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee.

Congressman Crawford, who represents one of the largest cotton-growing districts in the Southeast, was the keynote speaker at the board meeting. During a question-and-answer session following his speech, he cautioned NCC leaders against re-opening the current law, the Agriculture Act of 2014.

“If we open it up, we imperil virtually every program in the farm bill,” he said. “So if we can’t come up with something as a standalone initiative or through the appropriations process to tweak that then we would probably have to wait until the next farm bill.” (The next farm law is due to be written in 2018.)

While the Cotton Council would be loath to disagree with any congressman, and especially one as firmly in their corner as Rep. Crawford, it appears they may be willing to agree to disagree when Congress returns for its lame-duck session following the November election.

‘Needed for stability’

Reece Langley, the NCC’s vice president for Washington operations, outlined possible avenues the Council can take to try to make cottonseed eligible for the Price Loss Coverage program in the 2014 farm bill during the session that’s expected to begin in mid-November.

“We’re not so worried about the ARC (Agricultural Risk Coverage) program, but PLC is our focus,” he said. “And, also, as you know, we’re not seeking a marketing loan program for cottonseed; we’re simply getting it into the Title I PLC program.

“We believe this is needed so that we can provide some stability at this point in time until we get to the next farm bill debate,” said Langley, speaking at the NCC board’s open session at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.

The problem with waiting for the next (2018) farm bill, he said, “is that it could be very likely we will see this farm bill extended a year or even more, depending on what happens with this election and as they’re gearing up for the 2018 elections.”

One thing Rep. Crawford and the NCC would agree on is that the entire effort to have cottonseed eligible for PLC could have been avoided.

‘No ambiguity’ in farm law

Rep. Crawford said cotton industry leaders should have had “no problem” getting the other oilseed designation for cottonseed under the 2014 farm bill’s PLC program when industry leaders went to USDA for the change in January.

“It was very clear, very clear in the statute. There is no ambiguity to it at all,” he said, referring to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s belief he did not have authority to designate cottonseed as an “other oilseed.”

“I don’t want to inject politics into this, but I believe that was probably the motivation for not taking the action to help the cotton industry when it was a very simple fix to help at a time it was most needed.”

Congressman Crawford said the Cotton Ginning Cost Share Program, that was suggested as an alternative by Secretary Vilsack, “will suffice to help a little but, in the short term, but we need to be doing some things long term.”

Congress may need to fix the legislation, he said, “but this is a delicate balancing act when we talk about the farm bill and why it’s important to maintain the integrity of the farm bill.”

Gin Share funding exhausted

Langley said USDA exhausted all of the $300 million that was approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget for the Cotton Ginning Cost Share program before farmers completed signup for the assistance on Aug. 5.

USDA is now working with OMB to make additional funding available to all of the producers who were eligible to participate in the program, Langley told the Council board members.

Meanwhile, he said he believes it’s important the cotton industry get the cottonseed designation added now so the provision is part of any extension of the current farm bill that may occur if Congress gets delayed in passing the 2018 law.

Funding will be an issue for the cottonseed designation. “Certainly, anything that costs additional money is going to be nearly impossible to get through Congress at this point,” he said. “That’s why in our discussions up to now we’ve been trying to come up with proposal that is budget-neutral so it’s fully offset with savings in other parts of the cotton baseline or will get the cost as minimal as possible.”

Langley said other farm groups will argue against making changes to the current farm bill and “some will say cotton is “double-dipping” because it already has the STAX program and the marketing loan.

Meanwhile, other cotton-industry friends on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have already inserted “place-holder” language in the FY 2017 agricultural appropriations bills so the cottonseed designation can be pursued if Congress decides to pass an omnibus spending bill rolling all of the spending bills into a single piece of legislation in November or December.

“That will make it easier for Congress to include the cottonseed provision if that avenue becomes available,” Langley said.

For more information on cotton assistance programs, visit www.cotton.org.

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