While the new farm bill's cotton program has improved the industry's safety net and competitiveness, “our primary challenge has been maintaining this policy in the face of a constant flow of negative publicity,” says Kenneth Hood, National Cotton Council chairman.
Critics of the legislation include members of Congress, the media, and the governments of competing agricultural countries that claim it is not compliant with World Trade Organization rules, the Mississippi farmer/ginner told attendees of the 2003 Beltwide Cotton Conferences at Nashville, Tenn.
“Most of the congressional criticism is coming from members who want to see more restrictive payment limits,” he says, “and they're looking for a legislative vehicle to amend those provisions.”
The spate of negative publicity — ranging from the Wall Street Journal to many major metropolitan newspapers and the leading TV news shows — “has been both constant and unfair in its characterization of the cotton program,” Hood says. It has been fed further by the Environmental Working Group's “damaging misinformation” through a Website listing all farm program payments.
The Council has been working diligently to head off any further restrictions on program benefits, he says, and will redouble efforts as Congress begins its appropriations process this month.
Hood says the Council has joined other farm, commodity, bank, and manufacturer organizations to urge congressional support for emergency disaster assistance for crop and livestock producers for the losses in 2001 and 2002.
“Our goal has been to persuade Congress to provide this assistance on a truly emergency basis, much as other disaster assistance is provided for losses due to severe storms, without requiring offsets.”
And he says, “We're doing everything possible to put a firewall between disaster assistance and farm program spending. We're particularly concerned about offsets that would be achieved through more restrictive payment limits or reductions in payments authorized in the new farm law.”
Reiterating the Council's support for enhanced, incentive-based conservation program, Hood says such programs should be a complement to effective commodity programs, not a substitute.
The Council has conducted educational tours for key congressional and Natural Resources Conservation Service staff to provide assistance in their development of the new Conservation Security Program.
The role of research, education, and technology will be increasingly important in helping growers to achieve production and processing profitability, he says, noting that the Council has worked to secure government approval for transgenic varieties and to insure that resulting cotton and cottonseed products aren't saddled with marketing restrictions.
Trade issues have taken on added importance in recent months, Hood notes, in keeping with the Bush administration's strong emphasis on trade liberalization.
More than 3,000 cotton producers, researchers, Extension personnel, consultants, agribusiness representatives, and other industry personnel attend the Beltwide conferences.