BY GARY ADAMS, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR
The U.S. cotton industry fell victim to some reckless congressional politics this week.
A budget-neutral cottonseed policy that the cotton industry thoughtfully developed over the past two years — and in consultation with Congress — was not included in the fiscal year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill. The shocking omission came despite the fact that this cottonseed policy is broadly supported by the entire U.S. cotton industry, as well as many other farm bill stakeholders; budget neutral with the costs fully offset only by cotton-related provisions; vetted and supported by a broad, bipartisan group in Congress; and designed to help facilitate development of the 2018 farm bill.
Specifically, the cottonseed policy would designate cottonseed as a covered commodity under the 2014 farm law. The designation would make cottonseed eligible for that farm law’s Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs that are available now for other crops.
The cottonseed policy not only would serve as a much-needed bridge for cotton producers, their families and the broader cotton industry until new farm law is enacted, but could also provide the industry with some long-term stability. Cotton producers would have a greater ability to withstand economic downturns such as those caused by high production costs, price volatility, unfair foreign trade practices and the occasional catastrophic weather event.
Cotton producers, in fact, have suffered through three years so far of market returns well below costs of production, and the minimal amounts of government support provided to cotton producers during this time have not come close to closing the gap between returns and total costs. For the recent three-year period, the shortfall has averaged $168 per acre, leading to mounting economic pressures on cotton producers and affecting their lenders’ ability to continue financing many of these farm families. And the projections for 2017 costs and returns are no better.
Unfortunately, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) chose to play politics at the expense of cotton producers and their families who continue to struggle with negative economic returns and increasing financial pressures. While many in Congress urge the agriculture community to work collectively on policy issues, it is disheartening that some in Congress choose not to take that same approach in their efforts, instead pitting one commodity or industry against another.
Those two senators’ desire to help dairy producers somehow became a prerequisite for whether Congress could provide a policy to cotton producers to help respond to the ongoing financial and trade policy challenges. There was no rationale or justification for linking support between cotton and dairy producers. Furthermore, the proposal for cottonseed was fully budget-neutral with offsets from other cotton-related provisions, while the dairy proposals required new funding or other budget offsets. It was completely reckless to hold cotton hostage with an all-or-nothing approach that denied cotton producers their budget-neutral changes because new funds could not be secured for dairy.
The proposition that budget resources should be taken from the cottonseed policy, and one set of farm bill stakeholders, and diverted to dairy policy, for another set of farm bill stakeholders, is a concerning and dangerous precedent. The cotton industry understands the detrimental impacts of mounting economic pressures and wish that dairy could have found the necessary funding for additional support. However, this week’s actions have not only 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. And even when cottonseed policy or other improvements to the safety net are included in the next farm bill, cotton producers and their lenders will be faced with at least three more years before it provides any support. And that assumes Congress completes the new farm bill on time.
The National Cotton Council (NCC), U.S. cotton’s central organization, is grateful to the many Congressional Members who supported the efforts to include the cottonseed policy — they recognized that something needs to be done now for our nation’s cotton producers. In particular, thanks go to Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), John Boozman (R-Ark.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Luther Strange (R-Ala.) and to Reps. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).
Meanwhile, the NCC must shift its focus to working with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to determine what administrative options the USDA has to help cotton producers and their families. Above all, we remain optimistic that the economic well-being of farm families and our rural communities will ultimately prevail over congressional politics.
Adams is president and chief executive officer for the National Cotton Council of America.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.