Budget reconciliation and preserving the cotton program’s integrity commanded considerable attention from the National Cotton Council in 2005.
The NCC responded quickly to the Bush Administration’s 2006 budget proposal calling on Congress to evaluate its options within the context of U.S. cotton’s need to remain competitive in world markets. A statement by NCC Chairman Woods Eastland also emphasized that agriculture should not be singled out or asked for greater sacrifice and that any reduction or weakening of the safety net provided by the 2002 farm law would negatively affect all Americans. NCC worked with other agriculture groups to convince budget negotiators to leave decisions on agriculture’s budget requirement to the respective agriculture committees.
|NCC Chairman Woods Eastland, who explains cotton classing to CCI's COTTON USA Orientation Tour participants, worked tirelessly on behalf of the industry throughout 2005.
NCC letters to the Senate and House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittees conveyed U.S. cotton’s strong support for the 2002 farm law and its solid opposition to re-opening it in order to further restrict farm program benefits. The letters outlined the NCC’s requests for solid funding for efforts ranging from eradication to export promotion.
NCC members also rallied to urge their Congressional representatives to sign onto respective letters to the House and Senate budget committee chairmen in support of preserving the 2002 farm law. Those letters eventually garnered numerous Representatives’ and Senators’ signatures.
The final Congressionally-approved budget plan called for legislation that would reduce spending for commodity, conservation and nutrition programs by $3 billion. Later in the year, the NCC praised Sen. Saxby Chambliss for steering a budget reconciliation package through the Senate Agriculture Committee and for his leadership in defeating an amendment that would have changed the payment limit provisions of current farm law. An NCC-issued Action Alert resulted in members in each Cotton Belt state contacting Senators regarding that amendment.
The NCC also led a coalition of organizations representing commodities, financial institutions and equipment manufacturers in calling on Senators to reject that amendment offered by Senator Charles Grassley.
If history is any indicator, this misguided amendment can be expected to surface again at virtually any time. The NCC will continue to build coalitions and urge Congress to reject any such amendments that establish artificial limits discriminating against regions, crops or organizational structure.
The Congressionally-approved agriculture section of the reconciliation package did not extend commodity programs to 2011. The package also contained no across-the-board cuts for commodity programs; reduced advance direct payments to 40 percent for the 2006 crop year and to 22 percent in crop year 2007; terminated cotton’s Step 2 program on August 1, 2006; extended the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to 2010 with funds reduced by $1.27 billion in fiscal years 2007 through 2009 and $1.3 billion in FY 2010; and extended the Conservation Security Program to 2011 with funds capped at $1.954 billion between FY06 through FY10 and $5.65 billion between FY06 through FY15. It also cancelled funds available for the Watershed Rehabilitation Program prior to October 1, 2006.
Republican leaders in the Senate and House also refused requests to include a disaster assistance bill in the fiscal year 2006 defense appropriations bill.
NCC leaders and staff also made numerous contacts with Administration officials, Congressional friends and leaders from other agricultural groups to defend the current farm law and convey the importance of maintaining the structure of the 2002 farm bill for its duration. This message was initially conveyed in a meeting with Secretary of Agriculture Johanns by NCC Chairman Eastland, Vice Chairman Allen Helms and other leaders.
|West Tennessee cotton producer John Lindamood conveys his thoughts on farm policy to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
This message also was voiced clearly and persistently by industry members to Secretary Johanns and other USDA officials at their farm bill listening sessions. NCC members participated in sessions in Nashville, TN.; Little Rock, AR.; Oklahoma City, OK.; Hutchinson, KS.; Lubbock, TX.; Fresno, CA.; Moultrie, GA.; Springfield, MO., and Phoenix, AZ. NCC members also delivered that message before several Congressional members, such as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who conducted forums in their states or districts. The NCC also submitted comments to a Federal Register notice seeking input on key questions regarding current and future farm programs.
Throughout the spring and leading up to the Administration’s Step 2 announcement, the NCC participated in a number of meetings with USDA, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, Congressional leaders and other agricultural groups. Immediately after their announcement, the NCC voiced opposition to the immediate elimination of Step 2 with both the Agriculture Committee chairmen and ranking members. Congress was urged to: 1) consider the significant market disruption and economic losses accompanying this proposal and 2) make a decision on Step 2 in the context of a new farm bill, or at the very least to consider other options rather than immediately eliminating the program.
In other activity, the NCC:
- Sent a letter to USDA asking the agency to expedite delivery of the final 2004 upland cotton counter-cyclical payment.
- Offered comments on the Conservation Reserve Program’s future, particularly on how to re-enroll and extend CRP contracts expiring between 2007 and 2010.
- Submitted comments to USDA regarding the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and monitored changes to the program and potential effects on NCC members.
- Helped USDA publicize numerous initiatives, ranging from the Conservation Security Program national sign-up to the Farm Service Agency county elections.
- Arranged for a group of Texas and New Mexico producers to convey to their Congressional members/staff the need for continued federal funding of boll weevil and pink bollworm eradication and other beneficial initiatives.
- Monitored legal challenges to various commodity marketing/promotion programs, and one cotton apparel importer withdrew an administrative petition attacking the constitutionality of the Cotton Research and Promotion Program.
- Consulted with grower and ginner organizations prior to responding to USDA’s proposed cottonseed assistance rules with comments that included suggestions to streamline the process and reduce the administrative burden on gins, while ensuring timely distribution of benefits.
- Briefed producer and ginner representatives on USDA proposals that would enable the Commodity Credit Corporation to recognize electronic agency designations without the necessity of a paper CCC Form-605.
- Joined House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and other key lawmakers and agriculture groups in recognizing the significant role biotechnology has played in agriculture.
- Coalesced with Supima, American Cotton Shippers, AMCOT and the National Council of Textile Organizations in requesting of USDA a change in the administration of the Extra Long Staple Competitiveness Program.