Farmers may have yet another chance to win meaningful disaster assistance for their 2009 waterlogged crops, the chairman of the National Cotton Council told producers attending the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.
Although growers have become increasingly frustrated with what have been perceived as “missed opportunities” in obtaining ad hoc disaster legislation for the 2009 crops, Eddie Smith, a cotton producer from Floydada, Texas, said such assistance may yet pass the Congress.
“We have been advised that disaster assistance will be included in what is known as the second JOBs bill, which could be considered by the Senate as early as this week,” said Smith, who became the NCC chairman during its recent annual meeting in Memphis.
“Although not yet finalized, recent language would deliver assistance – in a manner similar to a direct payment—to eligible producers in counties with a primary Secretarial disaster declaration. Producers will likely have to certify a 5 percent economic loss for at least one crop of economic significance on the farm.”
Council leaders also believe a disaster assistance amendment to the JOBs bill could also contain financial assistance for losses associated with cottonseed, specialty crops, aquaculture, poultry and grazing.
The National Cotton Council, and other farm organizations began seeking “swift passage” of an ad hoc disaster bill last November after it became apparent that producers in the South had experienced severe crop losses due to prolonged periods of rainfall and flooding.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and Mississippi Republicans Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker introduced legislation that would provide an additional direct payment to producers who suffered significant losses due to weather.
Congressmen Travis Childers, D-Miss., and Marion Berry, D-Ark., introduced similar legislation in the House.
Hopes the legislation was gaining traction were dashed earlier in February when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced a JOBs bill that did not contain the disaster assistance language. The Senate passed the scaled down version the week of Feb. 22.
Smith said the Council’s congressional contacts indicate the legislation will be re-introduced in the second JOBs bill the first week in March.
Smith said the coming year promises to be full of challenges and opportunities for the Council and the U.S. cotton industry, including several other issues such as implementation of the 2008 farm bill and preparation for writing the 2012 legislation.
“In the area of farm bill implementation, USDA’s final rule issued on Dec. 31, covering payment eligibility for the 2010 crop, was no more restrictive than the rule covering 2009,” Smith said. “USDA, in fact, provided a less restrictive interpretation of the labor and management provisions of the ‘actively engaged’ requirements for some smaller entities in 2010. Otherwise, we believe the eligibility requirements for 2010 will be unchanged from 2009.
“The Dec. 31 rule also included finalization of the memorandum of understanding between USDA and the IRS for verifying compliance with adjusted gross income or AGI eligibility provisions for farm program and conservation program benefits. The Council will be closely monitoring the implementation of this process.”
The NCC and other agricultural groups are also conveying strong opposition to the Obama administration’s budget proposal, which would include almost $11 billion in cuts to U.S. farm programs. The proposal includes phasing down direct payments, limiting total payments, elimination of cotton storage credits, and a reduction in Market Access Program funding.
Other issues confronting the Council:
• Council leaders are anticipating increased activity on the WTO Brazil case. The Brazil government recently announced that, on March 1, it will publish a final retaliation list of U.S. goods that will be subject to retaliatory duties. It appears that Brazil’s list will target $560 million in retaliation and they will also claim the right to impose another $269 million in cross-retaliation (or the suspension of intellectual property rights).
• Continuing to support a comprehensive Doha agreement that does not include any reductions in commodity programs without commensurate market access gains.
• Addressing the Sixth Circuit Court Decision concerning pesticide application permits will continue to be a priority this year. On Feb. 22, the Supreme Court denied the Council and other agricultural associations’ petition which sought a reversal of the original decision. “We firmly believe a Supreme Court review of the earlier decision was warranted and that the Court’s determination will have significant repercussions for U.S. agriculture. The Council will be working closely with EPA and other agricultural groups to ensure that this process does not result in permitting requirements that will greatly increase our costs.”