The comments from Billy Dunavant that were reported in the Jan. 14, 2005, issue of Delta Farm Press — delivered to attendees at the Beltwide Cotton Conference in New Orleans — were laced with hypocrisy and unfairness.
There was a huge industry effort to pass the cotton program in the 2002 farm bill, a joint effort of producers, ginners, warehousemen, merchants and shippers. Each segment of the cotton industry had areas of the bill that benefited their individual sectors.
Now, halfway through the bill, it is being undermined by the world's largest cotton merchant who has reaped literally hundreds of millions of dollars worth of benefits in Step Two payments, but is now critical of the farm program that provides a meager safety net of price supports to U.S. cotton farmers.
Mr. Dunavant is not only critical of the cotton farm program, but goes farther to side with our cotton competitors in the world marketplace who seek to destroy the U.S. cotton industry. Mr. Dunavant's enterprises are primarily dependent on U.S. cotton growers, and he should not be biting the hand that feeds him. Most farmers would gladly trade positions with Mr. Dunavant, whose company — by his own admission — has lost money only once in the past 70 years, a much better track record than most farmers who deal with so many variables in production agriculture.
The 2002 farm bill was put in place as a means to provide a safety net for U.S. agricultural producers, and to provide some stability in rural America. I believe the farm bill is working and its objectives have been met. Net farm income has been stable — while the world prices have been very volatile — because of the marketing loan program and the counter cyclical payments that are received by the farmer when commodity prices are extremely low.
The farm program is good not only for agriculture, but it's good for rural America, which I still believe is the backbone of this country. We're not seeing the rural towns and communities die and fade away the way they did in the 1980s and 1990s, and this farm bill has brought stability to rural America.
To undermine that stability in the middle of a farm program, when we are desperately working to keep current appropriation levels and keep everyone tied to this farm bill, just doesn't make good sense.
We would only hope that Mr. Dunavant, and others in the cotton industry, would continue to join hands and work together to see that we have a viable industry that benefits not only merchants, but also the cotton producers of this country, as we are each dependent on the other.
Stanley E. Reed
Cotton producer, Marianna, Ark.
President, Arkansas Farm Bureau