If Allen Helms has a harried look when you encounter him at the local coffee shop or the National Cotton Council's headquarters in Memphis, Tenn., or the World Trade Organization's offices in Geneva, Switzerland, it's with good reason.
Judging from the report he presented at the opening session of the NCC's Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans, Helms, the NCC's chairman and a producer and ginner from Clarkedale, Ark., just about has more than he can say grace over these days.
As Helms listed all of the activities the Cotton Council leadership and staff have been involved in since he took office last February, it almost made you tired listening to him.
For openers, the Council faced a serious assault on farmer incomes when the administration unveiled its fiscal 2007 budget blueprint last February. The administration sought “savings” of $9 billion in cuts to commodity programs over the next 10 years.
“Their proposal called for reducing the payment limit cap for individuals to $250,000 for all commodity payments, including all types of marketing loan gains,” said Helms. “It also sought to remove the three-entity rule and make marketing loans recourse above the payment limit.”
The Cotton Council worked with other agricultural groups and farm-state congressmen to protect benefits promised to farmers when they signed multi-year contracts for USDA's Farm Service Agency programs.
“As a result, Congress' budget results did not include any of the administration's payment limit provisions,” said Helms.
Council leaders also were able to prevail on Congress to not agree to funding cuts in USDA Agricultural Research Service programs, including the USDA-ARS Ginning Laboratories in Lubbock and Las Cruces, N.M.
The Council and other farm groups were less successful in persuading Congress to provide $3 billion to $6 billion in aid for weather and energy-related disasters that occurred in 2005 and 2006. House and Senate Republican leaders blocked passage of the bills after the administration objected to including them in spending measures.
“While Congress has been unable to agree on a comprehensive disaster bill in the appropriations process, it did add $15 million in cottonseed disaster funds for declared counties in 2005,” said Helms. “Producers in those counties will not have to prove losses for cottonseed assistance in 2005.”
Council leaders have also spent considerable time and resources monitoring developments in the now-suspended World Trade Organization Doha Round negotiations. The WTO ministerial in Hong Kong, in particular, produced serious fireworks for the U.S. cotton industry.
“Cotton was singled out for special treatment in the Hong Kong text, with three specific objectives including elimination of cotton export subsidies, increased market access for cotton exports of least developed countries and an ambitious schedule of reducing trade distorting domestic subsidies for cotton,” said Helms.
In the months that followed, NCC has continued to work with USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative's office to maintain the U.S. position that cotton should not be singled out for special treatment in the WTO trade negotiations.
Council leaders have also testified at several farm bill hearings held by USDA and the House and Senate agriculture committees in preparation for the farm bill Congress is expected to pass this year.
Other Council developments:
Appointment of a Bale Moisture Task Force to provide input to USDA on excessive bale moisture issues.
Creation of a Performance Standards Task Force to improve the fiber quality and the flow of cotton through marketing channels.
Working with EPA and chemical manufacturers on extending the registration of crop protection products such as the herbicide MSMA.