Row of round cotton modules shows production of Arkansas field
Dozens of round modules grace the edge of a cotton field near Portland, Ark., in 2016.

Senate committee includes cottonseed in appropriations bill

National Cotton Council efforts to restore safety net for producers beginning to pay off with Senate Appropriations Committee action.

The cotton industry’s long-standing efforts to have cottonseed designated as an “other oilseed” under the commodity title of the Agriculture Act of 2014 finally appear to be gaining some traction.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s FY 2018 agriculture appropriations bill contains a provision making cottonseed eligible for oilseed Price Loss Coverage or PLC payments in the 2014 farm bill. The House agricultural appropriations bill for FY 2018 contains similar language.

The National Cotton Council, which had been pushing for the cottonseed designation as an “other oilseed” since the fall of 2015, issued a statement thanking Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, specifically for including the oilseed language in the bill it reported out Thursday (July 20).

It also praised other senators and House members for their help in adding the oilseed provision to the final agricultural appropriations measure which will be considered by Congress later this year.

“The cottonseed policy, if enacted, would apply beginning with the 2018 cotton crop, the last year of the current farm bill, and would help address the significant economic challenges currently facing America’s cotton farming families,” said Ronnie Lee, chairman of the NCC and a producer from Bronwood, Ga.

Economic hardship

“Cotton producers have faced economic hardship for three consecutive years,” said Sen. Cochran. “The provisions in this bill are intended to help our producers even the odds, and to illustrate that Congress is willing to act based on industry needs when they are necessary and justified.”

Lee said the NCC also appreciates the support of Sen. Patrick Leahy, -D-Vt., vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., chairman, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., ranking member, of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

The FY18 House Agriculture Appropriations bill, he noted, also includes report language regarding a cottonseed policy and urges USDA to operate the Cotton Ginning Cost Share program for the 2016 crop in 2017.

After years of dominating the debate on farm programs, the cotton industry had had less success in recent years. Cotton was not designated as a program crop in the 2014 farm bill due to the WTO case brought by Brazil against the cotton program in the early 2000s, leaving producers with little to no safety net.

When the cotton industry asked then-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to designate cottonseed as an oilseed in early 2016, Vilsack declined, saying his attorneys had advised him he did not have the authority to do so. Many congressional leaders disagreed.

Cotton Ginning Cost Share

Vilsack later offered cotton producers and ginners a Cotton Ginning Assistance Program to help producers navigate the sharp drop in fiber prices that occurred in 2014, 15 and 16. That program distributed payments of $330 million to producers last summer, and cotton industry leaders have asked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and the White House Office of Management and Budget to offer the program again in 2017 for the 2016 cotton crop.

“The NCC thanks Chairman Bob Aderholt, R-Ala., and Ranking Member Sanford Bishop, D-Ga. for their support on this language urging USDA to take action to provide near-term support,” said Lee in a statement released by the Council.

Both policy initiatives are needed to help U.S. cotton farmers deal with the ongoing financial stress and bridge the policy gap for cotton until the new farm bill is implemented, it said.

“With market returns well below total costs of production, cotton producers face global market conditions that are affected by the foreign subsidies, tariffs and trade policies of other countries, as well as manmade fiber overcapacity,” the Council noted.

The cotton provisions seek to address the ongoing economic challenges facing U.S. cotton producers by designating cottonseed as a covered commodity under Title I of the 2014 farm bill, according to a press release from Sen. Cochran’s office.

Price Loss Coverage payments

“This would allow cotton producers to participate in the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program just like all other producers of U.S. commodities,” the statement said. “Eligibility would begin in the 2018 crop year.

In addition to the cotton provisions, the FY2018 agriculture appropriations bill also includes funding and support for programs important to production, research, conservation and aquaculture in Mississippi and other states, Cochran said.

The bill differs from the Trump administration’s request in that it does not shutter some Agriculture Research Service laboratories or eliminate research project funding, including the ARS Cotton Ginning Research unit at Stoneville. Instead, the bill would continue to fund ongoing research conducted at Stoneville, Mississippi State University, and the University of Mississippi.

Overall, the committee-passed bill would support federal agriculture, rural development, conservation programs, food safety, and nutrition assistance for children, families and seniors.

Some other areas of interest to members of the agriculture sector:

Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) – $5.5 million increase for FSIS for full implementation of the USDA catfish inspection program. It also includes language directing FSIS to complete foreign country equivalency determinations of countries wishing to continue exporting catfish to the United States within 180 days after the date of final implementation (September 1, 2017), with priority given to countries with the highest export volume. 

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) – Within APHIS funding, $30 million, a $5.0 million increase, for feral hog management; $2.0 million to maintain the National Training Academy at Mississippi State University; and a $1.6 million increase to the budget to combat wildlife depredation to domestic catfish operations and related production aquaculture.

Farm Service Agency (FSA) – Within FSA funding, $1.0 million for a pilot program to provide management and analysis of mature bottomland hardwood tree acreage enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP); and $6.5 million for the Grassroots Source Water Protection Program to assist rural water associations with groundwater protection. The bill also includes:

  • Language directing FSA to update CRP guidelines to allow to allow current and future participants enrolled under floodplain and non-floodplain wetland restoration practices to plant up to 10 percent of enrolled land in agricultural commodity crops as wildlife food plots to enhance waterfowl food and habitat.
  • Language to prevent the closure of FSA county offices.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS)

  • $2.55 billion to support agricultural research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Formula research funding for land-grant universities is maintained at FY2017 enacted levels. Important to ongoing research work in Stoneville, Oxford and Starkville, the bill includes language rejecting the President’s budget request regarding the termination of research programs, redirection of research programs, or closure of research locations.

For more information on the FY2018 Senate agricultural appropriations bill, click on http://bit.ly/2tOszTW.

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