The provisions in the new Agricultural Act of 2014 (federal farm law) could be a good fit for many of the nation’s cotton producers but possibly not as much in the West.
During a National Cotton Council (NCC) farm bill meeting held March 19 in Maricopa, Ariz., NCC Senior Government Relations Representative Robbie Minnich spent one and a half hours combing through the new farm law’s cotton provision with about 75 growers and industry members.
Growers, including Lee Banning, asked about 20 questions aboutthe law and its potential impact on their farming operations. Banning is not happy with some aspects of the law.
He said, “I think growers in the southwestern U.S. will get burned in this farm bill since most of us in this area grow alfalfa and forage crops which are not covered under the program.”
Banning is a partner in Santa Maria Farms in central Arizona which includes about 150 acres of Upland cotton and about 1,400 acres of alfalfa.
“I think the jury is out on the cotton portion. If you are an alfalfa producer with cotton base and you rotate back and forth between cotton and alfalfa then this farm bill may cut your legs off.”
Banning says the old cotton base coverts to a generic base under the new law. If a drought or severe insect infestation led to crop failure, the new law does not have financial support or insurance programs available.
Minnich’s 39-slide PowerPoint presentation outlined the cotton provisions plus the commodity conservation and trade provisions. He explained what the NCC understands about the new farm law so far and what it doesn’t. Some of the details are under review by several USDA agencies.
Minnich says the cotton provision creates fundamental changes in cotton’s safety net, a greater reliance on crop insurance products, and continues the marketing loan program with some changes.
Five NCC representatives, including Minnich, conducted 49 farm bill meetings in 16 Cotton Belt states during March.
A California perspective
Roger Isom, president of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, is uncertain how the cotton provision will impact California growers.
“All we can say is we don’t know yet,” Isom said.
New conservation programs in the law, Isom says, could draw the interest of California growers, though the details of the program rules are not yet unavailable.
Looking at California cotton acreage this year, Isom predicts Pima and Upland acreage could drop dramatically this year to about 188,000 acres – about 90,000 acres less than last year’s 280,000 acreage. This year’s deflated total could be the least ground planted to cotton since the Great Depression.
The reasons for the decline are tied to the California drought and the lack of surface water, crop competition, price, and other factors.
Minnich says the new farm law will be phased in over the next two years. Growers must make some decisions this year with the Farm Service Agency, and other decisions next year with the Risk Management Agency.
Minnich encouraged growers to attend farm bill-related meetings conducted by other commodity organizations. He also suggested that growers seek reliable decision-making tools to be offered through universities and Cooperative Extension to help a grower plug in their own farm data to determine the best option for their individual operation.
Growers can select from several new crop insurance products and should visit with their insurance agent once the new products are available.
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