The cotton industry — and Congress — will have several options for pursuing a new farm bill over the next few months. Unfortunately, most of them are less than ideal, says the National Cotton Council’s chief Washington spokesman.

John Maguire, the NCC’s senior vice president for Washington Operations, said the industry probably “missed an opportunity” in the proposal submitted by the House and Senate agriculture committees to the Select Committee on Deficit Reduction back in November. The Select or “Super” Committee failed to act on it or any other deficit reduction plans.

“The Joint (or Select) Committee process would have locked in ag’s contribution to deficit reduction of $23 billion,” he said. “While more than agriculture’s fair share, it is significantly less than any other plan made public during 2011 and is probably well below what we think will be proposed in 2012.”

Speaking at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences’ general session in Orlando Wednesday morning, Maguire said the proposal developed by the ag committees offered producers a choice of programs tailored to fit their region and crop mix rather than a one-size-fits-all program.

The proposal also included a shallow-loss revenue insurance program, known as STAX, which was developed by the cotton industry to maximize use of limited budget resources and serve as a basis for the resolution of the U.S.-Brazil WTO case.

“In summary, the Joint Committee produced a plan with timely, predictable and flexible policy, including a cotton program that meets the unique requirements of the cotton industry,” Maguire noted. “Unfortunately, that opportunity may have been lost.”

While it is possible that the ag proposal developed for the Joint Committee could be added to a legislative vehicle early this year, it is more likely the development of a new farm law will be conducted under what is known as regular order. That is, full hearings, mark-ups, floor debates with amendments, passage, conference committee, more debate, amendments and votes and signature or veto by the president.

That could take most of 2012, and there is no guarantee, according to Maguire, that the legislation could survive a floor debate in the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, 2012 will be a short, legislative year because of the congressional and presidential elections in the fall.

The options for Congress include:

  • Use the full budget baseline and trigger sequestration (across-the-board spending cuts for the federal government).
  • Meet deficit reduction targets and pre-empt sequestration.
  • Pass a short-term extension of the 2008 farm bill (but a number of programs would go away because their funding expired in 2011).
  • Finish work before the elections or complete it in a lame-duck session.
  • Resume consideration in 2013 with the possibility a new Congress or administration could insist on starting the process over.