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Texas farmers continue to struggle

"We're facing severe economic conditions in rural Texas," Hopper said recently during PCGA's annual meeting in Lubbock. He cited drought that severely limited cotton production for three of the past four years and noted that production costs, especially energy, have risen steeply while cotton prices have plunged.

"But PCGA will continue to act in the best interest of the guy on the turn-row," he said. "He's the man we work for."

Hopper said PCGA, like the growers the organization represents, sees multiple issues that could affect profitability.

"But we're focusing our attention on a small number of issues in 2001," he said. "Our main objective is to find ways to help cotton growers work with their bankers to be successful."

Hopper cited four specific areas of concentration for PCGA.

"We want an AMTA payment equal to 1998.

"We will ask the U.S. House Agriculture Committee to fund a severe economic loss leg of a disaster program.

"We will ask for a 20 percent increase in the base loan rate.

"And we want to see a voluntary land diversion payment."

Hopper said doubling the AMTA payment would guarantee a banker a specific amount of money from a farmer as they prepare budgets.

"Most farmers have a carryover debt from the past few years," he said. "That's why many need a severe economic loss provision."

He said farmers who lost crops early in the season the past few years actually fared better than many who suffered lower losses and took the crop to harvest.

"A farmer who made 67 percent of his crop had a severe economic loss," Hopper said. "Those who lost early got insurance help. And, even farmers who made 120 percent of their normal crop and sold at low prices may have been hurt, but not as badly as farmers who made a light crop, did not qualify for insurance and sold on a down market."

Hopper says a voluntary land diversion payment would encourage cotton farmers to leave out some of their least productive acreage. "Many will have too little capital to farm their usual acreage," he said. Setting aside some of that acreage for a payment could ease some financial burdens and remove some cotton from the market.

"Our market price is too low," he said.

Hopper said cotton farmers need government assistance to survive.

"We will work to get these proposals adopted," he said.

Hopper said the cotton industry would adapt to a changing world economy if it survives.

"This area (the High Plains) is about 100 years old. And the last 50 years have been the go days. We've developed the cotton and oil industries here in the last half-century.

"But it will not take 50 years for our competition to develop new cotton production areas. It likely will require less than 10 years."

Hopper said technology is better, so building a cotton industry will take place much quicker than it could have in the 1950s.

"We're getting better," he said, "but so is our competition. It will get tougher so we have to work smarter if we intend to stay in business."

Hopper said the industry needs to work smarter in both Austin and Washington. "Government payments are the only things that kept us in business, and we must help them (legislators) understand our needs.

"Complaining at the gin is not enough. Each grower must resolve to do his part and get involved in making changes. We have to be willing to compromise without selling out our principles."

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