Editor’s note: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a Cotton Ginning Cost Share Assistance Program for cotton producers on Monday (June 6). Not long after, Val Dolcini, administrator of the USDA Farm Service Agency, made himself available to discuss the new program. Here are some of Dolcini’s comments in an interview with Delta Farm Press.
Q: The calculations for the Cotton Ginning Cost Share Assistance Program contain different rates for the four cotton-producing regions?
A: There are differences in ginning costs across the Cotton Belt, and producers in one might not be treated fairly if we tried to apply a national rate. We decided these four regional rates would be a more equitable way to do it.
Q: The program looks relatively simple on paper. Was it that simple to put together?
A: Your suspicions are correct; that’s for sure. The work of government is hard work, and it really took a number of months and a real collaborative effort here at the Agriculture Department and working with stakeholder organizations and working with members of Congress and others to come up with a program that would be meaningful, that would be timely and that would be targeted. I think we hit those three nails on the head.
It took a number of months to come up with the right formula and the right approach, but we feel like we have a program that can be beneficial to farmers this summer. The signup will begin on June 20, and we’re using data cotton growers around the country have provided to their local FSA offices in other programs. The application form will be mostly prepopulated with their data, and it will be a matter of them filling out some additional information on the form and returning that to their county offices. We’re anticipating we will begin making payments almost as soon as we receive these applications.
The signup will end on Aug. 5. There will be no extensions to this program, and we really feel like we can capture the universe of folks that planted a crop in 2015. That’s the targeted piece of this. It is focused on folks that planted a crop in 2015, and we’ll be able to do all of this between June 20 and mid-August.
Q: Last year saw fewer acres of cotton planted than average? How did that factor into the decisionmaking?
A: We looked at other years. 2014, for example, was covered by the Cotton Transition Assistance Program (which provided a reduced direct payment to producers to help bridge the gap between farm bills), and we felt 2015 would be the best year to focus on.
As we’ve discussed before, we’re in the business of supporting farmers here at FSA, and I think the Ginning Cost Share Program will be another example of how we’re able to provide assistance that really makes a difference in cotton country.
Q: Typically, new spending programs require offsets in other expenditures whether in agriculture or other parts of the government. Can you describe how the process worked in this case?
A: We’re using funds from CCC (Commodity Credit Corp.) so I don’t know if there were any offsets necessarily. We certainly worked closely with our colleagues at OMB (Office of Management and Budget) and elsewhere in government to make sure we’re doing this in a fiscally responsible way.
We felt the authorities within CCC allowed us to provide assistance to producers to extend and maintain their domestic marketing of cotton.
Q: Can you comment on the current status of the cotton industry’s proposal to designate cottonseed as an “other oilseed” under the Agriculture Act of 2014?
A: We felt we didn’t have the legal authority to do what members of Congress wanted us to do which was to designate cottonseed as a minor oilseed for purposes of farm bill participation. Instead, the secretary challenged the team here at FSA and in the department with coming up with an alternative way to help, and that’s where the Cotton Ginning Cost Share Program was born essentially.
We feel like we have a pretty solid way of helping. Just looking at some of the press this morning, there have been some nice comments from some of the cotton groups and the American Farm Bureau Federation.
This is like everything we do here at FSA. It’s a real team effort, a real collaborative effort, not just within government but among those we serve outside of government.
To read more about the new program, visit http://1.usa.gov/28iKjaf.