If National Cotton Council leaders could have one wish for the new year, it would be to put cotton back in as a Title I program crop for the 2018 farm bill.
Exactly what a new cotton program would look like the Council isn’t ready to say. But it would probably involve a hybrid program of cotton lint and the cottonseed-as-another-oilseed program cotton industry leaders have been advocating for the last 24 months.
“If you don’t remember anything else I say this morning, remember this: Our No. 1 priority is to get cotton back in some form or fashion in Title I of the 2018 farm bill,” said Craig Brown, vice president for producer affairs at the NCC. “We have the assurance of the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee that cotton will be back in Title I, and we believe that will be the case.”
Brown, speaking at the annual board of directors meeting of the Agricultural Council of Arkansas, said the Cotton Council is working hard on finalizing the details for a new cotton program to be submitted to both the House and Senate agriculture committees when they resume work on the new farm bill.
“We have a pretty interesting proposal that we’re developing that would get cotton back in as a PLC/ARC commodity with a fairly unique structure,” said Brown. “It will likely be a combination of seed and lint. If the savings work out; if the offsets work out; if there are additional savings that can be generated with some common provisions that are being talked about, we are hopeful we can provide what would be called a meaningful level of support.”
Cotton had been a program crop in all the farm bills dating back to 1949, but it was left out of Title I of the Agricultural Act of 2014, in part, due to the cotton case brought by Brazil to the World Trade Organization in 2003. A WTO panel ruled against the United States twice and awarded damages to Brazil, which included a requirement the U.S. reduce its aggregate measures of support for cotton.
STAX little help
When Congress was writing the 2014 farm bill, prices for most commodities were at levels not seen before. But within a year prices for most crops, including cotton, had dropped by 40 percent. The Stacked Income Protection Plan or STAX insurance program that was designed to protect cotton producers from shallow losses provided little support when prices fell into the low 60-cent range.
As a result, cotton industry leaders have been lobbying for a program that would have designated cottonseed as another oilseed under the 2014 farm bill, thus making cottonseed eligible for Price Loss Coverage (PLC) or Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) Program payments when cottonseed prices dropped below a reference price. The NCC asked then-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to launch such a program last year. But Vilsack said he didn’t have the authority to do so. Vilsack instead won approval for a cotton ginning cost-share program that provided payments for the 2015 crop last August.
The NCC has been trying to get approval from the Trump administration for cost-share payments for the 2016 crop. “We continue to press Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and the administration for ginning cost-share assistance,” said Brown. “We keep getting mixed signals from the secretary that it’s going to happen, but it hasn’t happened. And until it happens, you can’t take anything to the bank.
“Part of the problem, I suspect, is that it is tied up in all the disaster assistance and supplemental appropriations bills that are going on now,” he said. “We remain hopeful, but until the secretary pulls the trigger on that, there’s really nothing to report. If the program is approved, the payments would likely be for the 2016 crop.”
Brown said language included by Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi that would provide funding for a cottonseed-as-another-oilseed program for the 2018 crop is also tied up in the appropriations bill process that must be resolved to keep the government operating into the 2018 fiscal year.
“What we’re hoping for is an omnibus reconciliation bill that would take all the appropriations bills in the House and the Senate and lump them into one big bill,” said Brown, who noted the cotton industry was extremely disappointed when an agreement on a similar bill fell apart at the last minute earlier this year. “Since then, Sen. Cochran, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, has worked out another agreement with dairy state senators to provide funding for cotton and dairy assistance programs.
“There’s talk of a continuing resolution that would continue government operations until the middle of January,” he said. “So, there are potential vehicles for this legislation out there. It is very significant because it would provide effective support for cotton producers for the 2018 crop, and it would provide a program for cotton producers at the tail end of this farm bill.”