After reductions in the USDA's cotton classing fees for six of the last 10 years, the agency is proposing a modest 5 cents per sample increase in 2001 to help pay for the extra workload from a projected 18.5-million-bale crop.

“We're now in the regulation-writing process for proposing this fee for the 2001 crop,” says Norma McDill, who was recently appointed deputy administrator for the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service cotton program.

If approved by department management, the final fee will be published in the Federal Register by June 1, she told members of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association at their annual meeting at Memphis in conjunction with the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show.

While McDill said one of her “primary goals” is to keep cotton classing fees “as low as possible,” she said it is nonetheless “essential that plans for keeping the fees low still provide the industry with state of the art classing services.”

She explained that in achieving reductions in classing fees over the past six years (“an unheard-of accomplishment in these inflationary times”) it was necessary for the cotton program to draw upon its reserve funds.

“I plan to continue the same fiscally responsible position we have exercised in the past, by keeping fees as low as possible,” McDill said. “But realistically, factors such as difficulty in recruiting seasonal employees at the current salaries we pay, increased energy costs, and low revenues from our cotton sample sales, have stretched my capability to keep fees at a low level and also eliminate the need to draw down reserves — which are a necessity for a fall-back position when crops fail, or large unexpected expenditures arise.”

Roots to farming

McDill, who acknowledged that recipients of cotton program services such as cotton classing, market news, international cotton standards, and oversight of the Cotton Research and Promotion Program “are always concerned when a new person takes over the top position of the program,” noted that her roots “go back to a small farm in North Carolina, and those roots are what influence how I make my decisions and are a constant reminder that farmers are the lifeblood of this country.

“I know low cotton prices and higher and higher production costs are making it difficult to keep people on the farm. Recognizing that makes it even more critical that the cotton program continues to find ways to integrate more technology and more quality controls into our service delivery, while finding ways to keep costs low,” McDill said.

E-mail: hembree_brandon@intertec.com