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Conaway urges Vilsack to reconsider cottonseed decision

Conaway urges Vilsack to reconsider cottonseed decision

Agriculture secretary says he doesn't have authority to declare cottonseed an oilseed. Chairman of House Agriculture Committee says he does.

Updated: React from Rep. Michael Conaway

House Agriculture Committee chairman Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to reconsider his Feb. 3 decision that he doesn’t have the legal authority to declare cottonseed an “other oilseed.”

In a letter dated Feb. 5, Conaway writes, “Although your letter identifies several possible obstacles to the designation of cottonseed as an oilseed, I respectfully disagree with your conclusion and assure you that your authority to designate cottonseed as an ‘other oilseed’ stands on firm legal ground.”

In fact, Conaway writes, Congress gave the agriculture secretary that very authority in the farm bill.

Plains Cotton Growers pledge to continue working to get cottonseed declared an oilseed.(Photo: Chuyu/Thinkstock)

“The statute plainly reads that ‘other oilseeds’ are defined as ‘a crop of sunflower seed, rapeseed, canola, safflower, flaxseed, mustard seed, crambe, sesame seed or any other oilseed designated by the secretary,” Conaway writes.

The designation allows cottonseed to qualify for certain farm bill payments, which Conaway says is critical because of a farm financial crisis is the cotton belt.

“Given the increasingly dire conditions farm families face in the cotton belt and the grave consequences of failing to act, I have little choice but to continue to press for the same kind of responsible, urgent and meaningful response that has always been taken to address emergencies impacting producers of other commodities,” Conaway said in a media statement.

He’s not alone in pledging to continue working with Vilsack. The Plains Cotton Growers plan to keep working with the secretary, too.

"We continue to believe that the current farm bill allows for this authority for USDA, and many members of Congress share that belief," said Plains Cotton Growers president Shawn Holladay in a media statement. "This designation would be a tremendous boost for cotton growers across the Cotton Belt who are struggling with low prices, high input costs, weak demand and growing competition from foreign producers who are heavily subsidized, and it would help give us some stability as we go into financing the 2016 crop."

American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall said in a media statement that the AFBF will work with congressional ag leaders to find ways to overcome the legal barriers cited by USDA.

“A lot of cotton farmers are hurting across our nation,” Duvall said. “Cottonseed should be granted that designation and, short of reopening the farm bill, we will work to ensure that all possibilities are fully explored.”

Related stories:

Reuters: USDA secretary says cannot grant cottonseed subsidies

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