Confronting the “economic stress in cotton country” was an overarching issue for the bulk of Shane Stephens’ term as chairman of the National Cotton Council, which ended on a somewhat more upbeat note as he handed the gavel to incoming chairman Ronnie Lee, a Georgia producer, at the organization’s annual meeting at Dallas.
For much of his tenure, Stephens and other cotton leaders, and some members of Congress, lobbied Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to add cottonseed to Title 1 of the Agriculture Act of 2014 under the “other oilseed” category to provide support for farmers hurt by rising costs, falling prices, and an insurance-based program (STAX) that simply didn’t work for most producers.
“That request was denied,” Stephens said, “but Secretary Vilsack did work out a short-term ginning cost share program that helped. USDA provided $330 million in support through cotton ginning cost assistance. We will continue to pursue a long-term support with the new Congress and a new administration. We need cottonseed in the farm bill.”
Other NCC efforts in 2016 included funding for gin lab research, pollinator protection programs, registration of new herbicide-tolerant traits, and cooperative efforts with other organizations in strong support of a national, science-based food labeling bill. The council also took on regulatory issues, including EPA’s Waters of the United States rule.
An organophosphate review threatens availability of much-needed crop protection products, Stephens says, and animal feed regulations could affect cottonseed.
COTTON TRADE ISSUES
“The council has been very active on the international trade front, ranging from extensive efforts on the Turkish anti-dumping case, to maintaining close communications with U.S. representatives and WTO officials to ensure they are informed on developments in cotton policies of other countries and key factors impacting the global cotton market.
“We also worked on other factors affecting the global market,” Stephens says, “including unfair practices in the man-made fiber sector.”
The councils Cotton Quality Task Force took on cotton fiber contamination and is promoting education programs for producers, ginners, and warehousemen. “Contamination is a serious threat to U.S. cotton’s reputation for quality,” Stephens says. “But we saw less contamination from the 2016 crop than we did in 2013.”
That finding was based on the results of the latest contamination survey by the International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF). But even with the decline, he says, the industry isn’t slowing down on efforts to further reduce and ultimately prevent contamination. “Our education and research efforts are intensifying so we can see continued improvement in the next ITMF survey.” (See also http://bit.ly/2lmIjNX)
Cotton Council International is continuing its mission of expanding demand for cotton. “Working from 20 offices, and covering more than 50 countries, CCI is focused on making U.S. cotton the preferred fiber for mills and manufacturers, brands and retailers, and consumers,” Stephens says
The NCC will continue to push for increased support for a viable safety net for cotton in 2017, he says. Quality loss prevention remains a priority. “And we will continue to pursue efforts to limit policies of unfair trade practices by man-made fibers.
2017 COUNCIL PRIORITIES
“As we look at the year ahead, the industry’s priorities promise another full agenda for the council,” he says. Priorities will include:
- Securing short-term economic assistance for cotton producers.
- Strengthening cotton’s safety net in the next farm bill.
- Enhancing cotton crop insurance policies, including improvements in quality loss provisions.
- Maintaining beneficial trade agreements and policies, while addressing unfair trade practices and man-made fiber policies and overcapacity.
- Reversing burdensome regulations, while preserving critical crop protection products.
- Securing funding for the industry’s priorities in the annual appropriations process.
- Ensuring that the industry has a well-funded political action committee for advancing cotton’s priorities with our nation’s lawmakers.
Stephens introduced a video presentation of the Council’s efforts in 2017. That presentation is available on the NCC website at http://bit.ly/2lQ3hoR
“Through the council, our industry continues to prove that it can pull together to work for the solutions that successfully address our challenges,” Stephens says. “At this annual meeting, our leadership has identified those challenges, as well as our opportunities — and those have now become the council’s priorities and the focus of our work in the year ahead.”