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Southern Cotton Growers seek commitments on farm bill debate

Each fall and spring Southern Cotton Growers Inc. takes a group of cotton farmers and cotton industry leaders from throughout the Southeast to meet with House and Senate leaders in Washington D.C. to discuss federal policy that affects cotton production in the Southeast.

Approximately 30 participants, roughly five from each of the six states that comprise the organization, made a recent trip to Washington D.C. Hill appointments were scheduled with every representative and senator (75 members) from our region of the Cotton Belt.

Upon arrival, each state divided up to visit with their respective congressional delegations. Our message was very deliberate and specific in regards to the impending farm bill debate.

Unique to our area, is the fact that both reigning agriculture committee chairmen are from the Southeast. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) serves as Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee while Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) chairs the House Agriculture Committee. It is in these committees where the farm bill will be written. Group meetings were arranged in advance for all 30 participants to visit with each of the chairmen.

Without question, the vast majority of Southeast cotton producers strongly support the current farm law. It is imperative that the law continue to operate without major modification through its scheduled expiration with the 2007 crop.

Our producers have made substantial long-term investments, cropping and marketing decisions, which are based on current law. We are particularly concerned by annual proposals that would further tighten limitations on benefits or limit eligibility to the loan.

Both chairmen concurred in opposition to these proposals. Current limitations already place many operations at a significant disadvantage because of the costs associated with cotton production and economies of scale.

Southern cotton growers strongly support using current law as the basis for future law. Here again, both Chairmen generally agree with this position. The combination of a marketing loan, counter-cyclical payment when prices are low and a direct payment for stability are a sound foundation.

If negotiations in the DOHA round have not been completed to the point that the impact on future U.S. farm policy is clear, we would support continuation of the current farm bill for at least one additional year. Given our significant financial investment, it is imperative that farmers know what the policy will be well in advance of planting season.

Any uncertainty will be highly disruptive and costly. Both Chairman Chambliss and Goodlatte indicated that it is their intention to write a new farm bill in 2007. However, both acknowledged the potential for an extension pending the outcome of the WTO talks.

Southern Cotton Growers is deeply concerned that the language in the recent Hong Kong Ministerial Agreement will be used to single cotton out for special and differential treatment. We urged members of Congress to urge the U.S. negotiating team to insist the negotiations be conducted as a single undertaking with no early harvest for cotton. Both chairmen strongly support this position and have informed the U.S. Trade Representative that a WTO agreement that contains such provisions would be DOA before Congress.

We also expressed serious reservations regarding highly competitive countries such as China, Pakistan and India being granted special status as a “less developed country” which would exclude them from having to comply with many of the “market access” provisions. This is a concern also shared by both chairmen.

The Southeast grower delegation also discussed with their elected officials immigration reform and support for a partial, supplemental direct payment to help offset the high cost for energy.

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