If they haven’t done so already, cotton producers need to get on a first-name basis with their local federal crop insurance agent, the chairman of the National Cotton Council said in remarks at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.

In the past, Wally Darnielle, who is also president and CEO of Plains Cotton Cooperative Association in Lubbock, Texas, would have advised growers to get to know the director of their county Farm Service Agency office if they hadn’t already done so.

But the passage and signing of the Agriculture Act of 2014 by President Obama three weeks ago, has led to major changes in the delivery of farm program benefits – from a government-oriented to a crop insurance-based program – he said on the opening day of the Gin Show in Memphis, Tenn.

 

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“This is probably going to come down to an individual decision; it’s going to depend on what crops people grow, what counties they farm in and it’s likely to be different for just about everyone,” said Darnielle. “It is critically important that people seek out all the educational opportunities available to them.”

Educational meetings

To assist its members, the National Cotton Council is conducting a set of farm bill education meetings across the Cotton Belt that began in South Texas the week of Feb. 23 The meetings in other areas of the Cotton Belt will be conducted during the period of March 17-25. For a complete list, click on www.cotton.org.

The Council also will be conducting follow-up sessions later this year as more details on the new crop insurance provisions become available, and it has appointed a special working group to provide the Council with input in implementing the crop insurance provisions in the new farm bill.

Darnielle and other commodity organization leaders have expressed concerns about reductions in Farm Service Agency personnel at the county level at a time when USDA is trying to prepare for implementing a complicated new law.

He asked producers to wait an “appropriate” amount of time before visiting county FSA offices to allow personnel to fully digest the details of the new farm bill. “We hope they all understand it in the same way, but you guys know that doesn’t always happen.”

The farm law includes a new feature – the STAX program – that Darnielle says was specifically developed in response to the WTO case brought by Brazil in 2002. STAX provides a “shallow loss” coverage option for farmers to help offset the future loss of direct payments under the new farm law.

Partial payment

STAX will not be implemented until 2015 so cotton farmers will receive a partial direct payment in 2014. “A year ago I wouldn’t have given us any chance of getting a direct payment this year,” noted Darnielle, who served as the Council’s vice chairman in 2013.

For now, Brazil seems committed to negotiating a final settlement of the WTO case, in which Brazil’s cotton farmers claimed they were harmed by the marketing loan and export credit incentive programs of previous farm bills.

“In view of the Brazilian government’s recent statement about seeking a WTO assessment of the new farm bill, we are encouraged that there appears to be a preference to resolve the case through discussions rather than retaliation,” he said. 

“The Council continues to reiterate that the STAX program was developed specifically to bring the US into compliance with the WTO decision. The changes to cotton policy are significant, and we believe they are sufficient to resolve the case.

The farm bill also includes several other crop insurance enhancements, including the Supplemental Coverage Options, enterprise unit pricing by practice and others. “It will be important to note that the producers of other program crops will have critical one-time decisions to make on several program options—including what type of income support program and whether or not to update yields and bases.”

WTO meetings

Leading up to December’s WTO Ministerial in Indonesia, he said, the Council participated in a number of meetings in Geneva that were in conjunction with the annual WTO Cotton Development Assessment. 

“During these meetings, we had the opportunity to highlight the drastic changes in the cotton market over the past five years. During the Council’s meeting with the chairman of the WTO agriculture negotiations, we underscored the importance of the proposed changes in U.S. cotton policy and emphasized that this reduction in support should be recognized in the WTO.

“We also got to tell the WTO officials that cotton growers all over the world share the same goal,” he said. “We shouldn’t be fighting each other; we should realize our big problem is synthetic fibers taking our market share.”