Farmers Want Cottonseed Added to Farm Bill

Farmers Want Cottonseed Added to Farm Bill

Cotton Crop Cotton Crop

March 16, 2016

Story provided by This Week In Louisiana Agriculture.

Cotton farmers want to protect what's left of their infrastructure, which is why they want U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to add cottonseed to the 'other oilseed' provision of the current farm bill.

Tthe road toward a safety net for cotton growers outside of the Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX program) outlined by the 2014 farm bill, may lead to a dead end, unless congress acts. Here’s the problem -- growers across the cotton belt, including Louisiana, need cottonseed added to the ‘other oilseed’ provision under the current farm bill. The move would provide farmers with ad Price Loss Coverage plan or PLC. However, under the STAX program, such a safety net does not expressly give cotton growers the protections they need to keep their infrastructure. Cotton grower and American Soybean Association Chairman Wade Cowan says with the program growers have now, they don’t have the safety net they need.

“It’s really causing a lot of heartache in the farm industry, " said Cowan, "and we are really afraid that cotton farmers in those areas of the country that have cotton will lose infrastructure. So we have been very supportive under this move to make cottonseed a minor oilseed.”

Louisiana cotton farmers among the other cotton producing states have argued that U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has the power to make cottonseed a minor oilseed under the statutory language of the 2014 farm bill. However, when asked why he hasn’t made such a designation, Vilsack responded simply, “because i don’t have the authority.”

"When congress passed the farm bill," said Vilsack, "they had the ability to include cottonseed in the ARC and PLC program. They made a separate provision for cotton called the STAX program. The reason they did was in part, in response to the WTO/Brazil case where we lost and we faced potential retaliation for subsidies of cotton. So when you make an express decision to exclude something, that has a meaning; that reflects congressional intent.”

Cotton farmers could recover at least $30 dollars to the acre if a PLC plan covered cottonseed. Cowan, who grows 800 acres of cotton, explains that while the payment is small, it could save farmers from a total loss on covered acres.

“Everyone that you talk to—Larry Combest, he was my congressman when the 2002 farm bill, when they put the minor oilseed provision in, and as he looked at it, he said it’s still in there—and so, it’s very frustrating, but hopefully, chairman Conoway and Vilsack to get this done and getting moving forward.”

On the other hand, Secretary Vilsack explained during his Commodity Classic press conference, while he does not have the authority to override congress, his office has reached out to help the industry.

“There are two ways we could help," Vilsack explained. "One, we could use the Commodity Credit Corporation resources to provide some kind of payment similar to the transition program that was in place during 2014-15 for cotton growers; but congress has specifically prevented us from doing this, even though previous administrations have used that tool and we had used that tool, they put the clamps down and said you can't used that tool; and, two, cost-sharing on the ginning of cotton in a way that producers would receive some assistance and help in the interim, in the short-term until congress revisits the farm bill and decides in the new farm bill to create a new program that were to include oilseeds."

Vilsack explained that the USDA has cost-shared on the ginning of cotton, which could help farmers.  However, it's ultimately up to congress to draft a farm bill that would include cotton as an oilseed.

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