The National Cotton Council has watched Congress pass and the president sign a farm bill that bears a “remarkable resemblance” to the farm policy positions it adopted at its annual meeting in San Diego nearly 18 months ago.

But council leaders will have little time to take a breather and congratulate themselves on their farm policy successes, says Kenneth Hood, the NCC chairman and a cotton producer from Gunnison, Miss.

“We have no time for victory laps,” he said in a speech at the council's board of directors meeting in New Orleans. “One of the biggest challenges facing our industry in the coming months and possibly for years ahead will be the successful defense of the new farm bill.”

Hood noted that Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota have already indicated they would try to resurrect the payment limit amendment that the Senate passed in its version of the farm bill. (Ironically, Grassley introduced the legislation as an amendment to the supplemental appropriations bill as Hood spoke in New Orleans.)

“We will have to defend the bill on multiple fronts, and we will need all the help we can get,” he said.

Hood and the council have invited commodity and general farm organizations to meet on June 12 in Washington to discuss ways to prevent raids on the farm bill and its funding provisions. He said the response to the invitation has been excellent.

Consensus to defend

“In our letter of invitation, we acknowledged that there may be differences of opinion about specific provisions of the new law, but we suggested there should be a strong consensus to defend the level of funding provided for commodity and conservation programs.”

With the budget surplus rapidly disappearing, Hood said farmers can expect members of Congress to offer farm program amendments to generate dollar “savings” that could be spent on other priorities.

The council chairman said he expected such amendments to be introduced for “must-pass” appropriations measures not under the direct control of the House or Senate agriculture committees.

The supplemental appropriations bill now being considered by the Senate contains funding to replenish military equipment and supplies that have been expended in the war on terrorism and disaster funding for farmers who suffered crop losses due to adverse weather conditions in 2001.

Hood said the NCC's recent farm policy success had its beginning in November 1999, when then-President Ron Rayner established a blue ribbon panel to explore farm policy alternatives.

“The Leadership Group agreed that many of the FAIR Act provisions, such as cropping flexibility and an AWP-based marketing loan with the 3-step competitiveness program, were favored by the industry,” he said. “The FAIR Act's primary flaw was the absence of an adequate income safety net.

“These basic elements of new farm policy were refined further by the Leadership Group when they met again during the council's 2001 annual meeting in San Diego. Acting on these recommendations, the council's board and delegate body adopted specific farm policy recommendations for upland and ELS cotton that addressed the industry's priorities for both the short term and for the longer term under new farm law.”

The council's short-term priorities called for supplementing Agricultural Marketing Transition Act payments with additional marketing loss payments at the highest rate possible for the remaining crop years of the FAIR Act.

Dual payment approach

For the new farm law, the NCC supported a continuation of decoupled AMTA-like payments and the addition of a mechanism for commodity-specific counter-cyclical payments. “The goal was to use this dual payment approach to get the highest possible level of income support while complying both with a congressional budget resolution and the WTO spending restrictions on so-called trade-distorting payments,” Hood noted.

“As you know, the bill eventually reported out of conference bore a remarkable resemblance to the model farm program appended to then-chairman Bob McLendon's February 2001 testimony before the House Agriculture Committee.”

On another front, the U.S. cotton industry will be trying to find some common ground on at least some core provisions of Trade Promotion Authority legislation in the House/Senate conference is expected to begin soon.

“There are some major differences between the two bills, and the outcome will have very significant implications for the U.S. cotton and textile industries,” he said.

Among other NCC priorities for the near term Hood noted were:

  1. Utilizing information gathered from NCC members to help in the farm bill implementation process.

  2. Seeking disaster program funding in future spending measures.

  3. Participating in the Sound Dollar Coalition to address currency exchange rates and the strong dollar.

  4. Continuing Quality Task Force activities dealing with pepper trash research, variety selection, sticky cotton measurements and loan schedule improvements.

  5. Supporting the Bale Packaging Committee's review of bale cover specifications.

  6. Engaging in several regulatory issues covering flammability, cottonseed ammoniation, crop protection product registration, air quality standards and biotechnology.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com