Cotton, Dairy Producers “Left in the Lurch” in Funding Bill

A deal reached on Sunday to fund the federal government through September, did not include assistance for programs sought by cotton and dairy producers.  House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.) expressed disappointment with this result and reassured farmers and ranchers that he and many of his colleagues “are fully committed to correcting this wrong and seeing them through their current economic challenges.”

Background- Cotton, Dairy and the Comprehensive Government Funding Bill

Recall that last week, Bloomberg BNA writer Casey Wooten reported that, “House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said he is ‘somewhat optimistic‘ that an upcoming measure to fund the federal government will include some kind of aid for cotton and dairy farmers.

“Farm-state lawmakers have been in talks with appropriators about including the language, which would help increase the baseline for cotton and dairy aid programs in the 2018 farm bill as well, Peterson said April 25 to a group of agriculture journalists. Changing the budget baseline for the programs would make it easier to retain the programs over the long term.

‘Those are now being debated in the budget ‘cromnibus,’ or whatever they call it, and I’m somewhat optimistic that there’s going to be a fix for both dairy and cotton in that bill,’ Peterson said.

Mr. Wooten added that, “Peterson said he’s advocated for the changes to Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who represents a dairy-producing state.”

Last week’s article noted that, “Some cotton farmers have said the USDA income support program created in the 2014 farm bill, the Stacked Income Protection Plan, is inadequate and hasn’t provided the protection intended. The cotton industry has pushed for its crop to be covered in the subsidy programs offered in Title 1 of the farm bill, similar to other commodities.

“[House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.)], who also spoke to agriculture reporters April 25, did not offer the same optimism about cotton or dairy language in an upcoming funding bill, but said both programs should be addressed ‘sooner rather than later.'”

Some members of the House Ag Committee have noted that the cotton part of the 2014 farm bill hasn’t worked very well for producers and needs to be overhauled. (Photo: USDA-ARS).

In early April, a House Ag Subcommittee held a hearing that included a focus on cotton policy; with respect to that hearing, DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported that, “[Ronnie Lee, a Georgia farmer and chairman of the National Cotton Council] told Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., that the National Cotton Council has a plan to work through the appropriation process to convert generic acres to cottonseed base acres or base acres for other commodities. That would get cotton back into the commodity title before the next farm bill is written so cottonseed has a baseline for payments.”

Note also that a recent farmdoc daily article explored a variety of potential issues with changing cotton policy (See, Coppess, J., G. Schnitkey, C. Zulauf, and N. Paulson. “The Cottonseed Conundrum.” farmdoc daily (7):77, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, April 27, 2017.).

And back in late March, the full House Ag Committee held a hearing on dairy policy where Ranking Member Peterson expressed his concern about finding a solution to the Margin Protection Program that can operate within the budget confines that the Committee has to work with.

At a House Ag Committee hearing in March, some lawmakers noted that changes need to be made to the current Margin Protection Program, but Congressional Budget Office scoring is currently making that a difficult prospect.

Todd Neeley explained last week in a DTN article that, “Through appropriations, the cotton and dairy programs could be given at least baseline budgets to make the programs easier to fund in the next farm bill. If there isn’t additional funding provided for the 2018 farm bill, other programs seeking more funds would force cuts elsewhere in the farm bill.”

But by Friday, Mark Dorenkamp reported at Brownfield that:

The ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee says his counterparts in the Senate have thrown a monkey-wrench into fixing cotton and dairy programs in the Farm Bill.

Comprehensive Government Funding Bill Agreed to, Cotton, Dairy Left Out

Lisa Mascaro reported on the front page of yesterday’s Los Angeles Times that, “Congressional negotiators reached a bipartisan deal late Sunday to fund the federal government through September, easing the threat of a shutdown but denying President Trump several key priorities — including money for his promised border wall with Mexico.”

However, Forrest Laws reported yesterday at the Delta Farm Press Online that, “But the compromise also omits funding for the assistance programs sought by cotton and dairy organizations, instead directing USDA to develop a report outlining potential options for helping cotton producers within 60 days and to provide direct assistance to dairy farmers along the lines of the Cotton Ginning Cost-Share Program in 2016.”

Mr. Laws explained that, “The National Cotton Council had been seeking inclusion of a designation of cottonseed as an ‘other oilseed‘ under the 2014 farm bill, which could have made cotton growers eligible to sign up for participation in Price Loss Coverage or PLC payments.

“But budget negotiators failed to reach an agreement on including either the cotton or dairy provisions in the FY2017 omnibus appropriations legislation, which consists of 11 regular appropriations bills and some funding requests from the Trump administration and runs 1,665 pages.”

A House Ag Committee news release yesterday (“Conaway Disappointed Cotton, Dairy Farmers Left in the Lurch“), indicated that, “Today, House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) issued the following statement concerning the exclusion of critical help for cotton and dairy farmers from the omnibus appropriations bill.

“‘It is no secret that times are extremely difficult in farm and ranch country right now, with net farm income down 50 percent from where it stood just four years ago. It is also no secret that the safety net for cotton and dairy is failing our producers…”

The release added that, “The dairy industry, too, has been working hard to restore the safety net for our nation’s dairy farmers. Unfortunately, Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Pat Leahy (D-VT) insisted on an $800 million plan that was cobbled together last minute, unvetted, and totally unpaid for, and when they did not get their way, they blocked critical relief for both cotton and dairy farmers.

‘I am extremely disappointed in the recklessness and heartlessness of such an approach. For the sake of both America’s cotton and dairy farmers, I hope that all lawmakers will come together on policies broadly supported by those they are designed to help, thoroughly vetted, and fully paid for.

‘Senators Stabenow and Leahy should not be playing games with the livelihoods of those who work hard to put food on our tables and clothes on our backs. I want to reassure the nation’s farmers and ranchers that I and many of my colleagues are fully committed to correcting this wrong and seeing them through their current economic challenges.’

Meanwhile, said she expects dairy and trade will be early priorities for U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, based on the questions asked by senators during his confirmation process.

Ray Starling, special assistant to President Donald Trump for agriculture, trade and food assistance, said the administration is interested in the dairy situation.

“‘Everyone knows what a dairy farmer does,’ he said. ‘Everyone knows cows have to be milked at least twice a day.'”

The article added that, “But Starling warned that there is not a ‘silver bullet’ for solving the dairy challenge. Even the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump scrapped, ‘did not make the gains’ that were sought for access to the Canadian market for U.S dairy products.”

Keith Good

Keith Good is the social media manager for the farmdoc project at the University of Illinois. He is well known in agricultural circles for the daily FarmPolicy.com News Summary.