NCC Turns to USDA After Cotton Seed Policy Nixed From Budget Bill

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The National Cotton Council is calling out Congress for not including what it says is a budget-neutral program to help cotton growers.

NCC chairman Ronnie Lee said the NCC “is extremely disappointed that the fiscal year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill does not include the cotton seed policy developed by the U.S. cotton industry in consultation with Congress.”

Lee said the cottonseed policy is broadly supported by the entire U.S. cotton industry, as well as many other farm bill stakeholders; is budget neutral, with the costs offset only by cotton-related provisions; is vetted and supported by a broad, bipartisan group in Congress, and is designed to help facilitate development of the 2018 farm bill.

Lee, who is also a cotton producer based in Bronwood, Georgia, specifically cited Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Debby Stabenow (D-Mich.) for opposing the measure and allocating funds for an $800 million plan to assist dairy farmers.

“The Senators’ desire to help dairy producers somehow became a pre-requisite for whether Congress could provide a policy to cotton producers to help respond to the ongoing financial and trade policy challenges,” Lee said. “There was no rationale or justification for linking support between cotton and dairy producers. These actions not only have left cotton producers with no near-term options to help them deal with long-running economic issues, but have harmed the prospects for developing a new farm bill. Without the cottonseed policy in place, the result is that all farm bill stakeholders will be seeking support from an expected smaller overall budget available for the next farm bill.”

NCC said the cotton seed policy was developed by all of the cotton industry’s segments and production regions over the course of the past two years. A letter from 58 cotton organizations was recently sent to Appropriations Committee leaders outlining this policy and the immediate need for it.

In the letter, NCC noted that cotton producers have suffered through three years of market returns well below costs of production, and the minimal amounts of government support provided to cotton producers during this time has not come close to closing the gap between costs and returns. During the period, the shortfall has averaged $168 per acre, leading to mounting economic pressures on cotton producers, and the projections for 2017 costs and returns are no better, NCC said.

The program was meant to provide insurance against losses that occur during a single year’s production period and protect against low prices on production.

“The cottonseed program costs are fully offset and thus budget neutral,” NCC wrote in the letter. “This is accomplished by reallocating existing budget baseline resources from two areas of the farm bill—the STAX insurance policy and generic base acres—that are either cotton specific or related to cotton, to the cotton seed policy. The result will be a cotton seed policy available on the exact same farms that currently have generic base acres, but the base acres will be decoupled, crop-specific bases…Therefore, the cottonseed policy is a fully self-contained, budget-neutral policy.”

Lee said council will now shift its focus to working with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to determine what administrative options USDA has to help cotton producers.

“Our industry will remain optimistic that the economic well-being of farm families and our rural communities will ultimately prevail over Congressional politics,” he added.

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