A rare coalition of rural and urban Democrats and Republicans from across the country, inside and outside of the cotton belt, requesting that the secretary of agriculture use his authority under the Farm Bill to designate cottonseed an oilseed, allowing farmers who produce cottonseed to access the same risk management tools available under the Farm Bill to other oilseed farmers.
Suffering under combined pressures of natural disasters and predatory foreign competition by China, India, and others, financially struggling American cotton farmers received strong backing from Capitol Hill as House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Texas), ranking member Collin C. Peterson (D., Minn.), General Farm Commodities and Risk Management subcommittee chairman Rick Crawford (R., Ark.), and subcommittee ranking member Tim Walz (D-MN) led 100 Members of the House of Representatives urged U.S. secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack to use legal authority provided under the 2014 Farm Bill to provide crucial help.
“America’s farmers are currently experiencing a 55% free fall in net farm income, with huge losses due in part to the culprits of natural disasters and the unfair trade practices of foreign countries that use high and rising subsidies, tariffs, and non-tariff trade barriers to elbow U.S. farmers out of world markets,” said Conaway. “Cotton farmers are getting hit the hardest right now and they are doing all they can just to hold on without access to key risk management tools under the Farm Bill.”
The week prior the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee held a hearing on the crisis unfolding in cotton country. Farmers from across the country urged lawmakers to join farmers in requesting the Secretary use his authority to provide relief.
“We are deeply concerned that unless the Secretary takes action, there will be significant economic consequences. We cannot allow the predatory trading practices of a few huge players in the world cotton market to destroy cotton production in this country, but that is exactly what will happen without action,” Conaway concluded.
The American Soybean Assn., also wrote a letter to Vilsack in support of establishing the cottonseed program.
“ASA is aware of and concerned about the difficult economic conditions currently facing U.S. cotton growers and the cotton industry,” wrote ASA president Richard Wilkins in the letter. “Participation in the STAX program in 2014, at only 24 percent of producers, leaves a large majority of cotton farmers with no protection against low prices other than crop insurance and the marketing loan program. Allowing farmers with generic acres the option to sign up for a cottonseed PLC or County-ARC program would offer producers an improved safety net.”
“We do not believe a cottonseed program would have a negative impact on the production of soybeans or other oilseeds, or on vegetable oil prices,” added Wilkins. “The PLC and County-ARC programs are decoupled, so payments are not tied to current-year planting of any crop and producers can respond to market signals. This market-oriented approach is similar to programs in effect under the 2008 Farm Bill, when production of cotton and cottonseed was much higher, but did not negatively affect production or prices of soybeans or other oilseeds.”
ASA’s support is conditional on the determination that the estimated cost of the program can be offset, if necessary, without negatively impacting funding for other farm bill programs or reducing funding for crop insurance, and that it will not violate U.S. commitments under the WTO.