The U.S. cotton industry has a lot at stake in the debate over writing a new farm bill, but U.S. cotton producers have more to lose than other U.S. commodity groups if Congress fails to address one overriding issue.

That was the message Jimmy Dodson, a Robstown, Texas, cotton producer and the new chairman of the National Cotton Council, delivered to attendees at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show in Memphis, Tenn., March 1.

Besides providing a much-needed safety net for an industry that is reeling from a greater-than-50-percent reduction in cotton prices over the last two years, policymakers also face the challenge of ultimately settling the WTO case filed by the government of Brazil nearly a decade ago.

“All of us are frustrated with this ongoing challenge,” Dodson told farmers. “However, it is critical that we reach a settlement of this case during this farm bill debate. A separate challenge by Brazil after this farm bill is concluded would be disastrous for U.S. cotton policy.”

Dodson, who became the Council’s chairman during its recent annual meeting in Memphis, said the NCC believes the STAX program and the changes it has proposed to the marking loan and GSM credit programs will provide a path to a settlement of the longstanding issues with Brazil.

In 2004, a World Trade Organization dispute panel agreed with Brazil’s claims that certain features of the U.S. cotton program were market distorting. The ruling allowed Brazil to retaliate against the U.S. by raising tariffs on up to $800 million of U.S. exports to Brazil.

During the ongoing debate over the farm bill, Brazil has agreed to delay imposing those measures, a decision that was helped by an annual appropriation of $147.3 million for an educational program for Brazil’s cotton farmers to improve production. Some cotton industry leaders worry that Brazil’s patience is wearing thin because of the protracted farm bill debate.

“Needless to say, 2013 is a critical year for farm policy,” said Dodson. “We must be vigilant as Congress addresses large macro-economic issues and be ready to act on a multi-year farm bill to provide stability of decision-making for producers and our industry and finally put the Brazil case behind us.”