The National Cotton Council's John Maguire has never been one to try to sugar coat developments in Washington. So, when the Council vice president spoke at the Plains Ginners Association annual meeting in Lubbock the other day, he didn't pull any punches.
“Some farmers seem to think that the House Agriculture Committee farm bill is a done deal and want to know when they can expect to receive their payments,” he said. “Unfortunately, the reality is we have a long way to go before Congress writes a new farm bill.”
For openers, the coalition of commodity organizations that has held agriculture in good stead in previous farm bills appears to be showing some cracks. The National Corn Growers Association, for one, has openly criticized the House Ag Committee farm bill.
“There is a perception among other crops that cotton did better than they did,” said Maguire. “The fact that the committee chairman and ranking minority member are both from cotton country may have added to that feeling.”
Bruce Knight, Maguire's counterpart with the Corn Growers, recently said the NCGA had not endorsed the House Ag Committee bill “because it was written with a fundamental bias against corn and soybean farmers.”
The NCGA has said it wants to do away with the marketing loan and replace it with a “supplemental income protection” plan based on a national average price formula that would make payments based on yield.
“Since the last farm bill, cotton yields haven't increased significantly; corn yields have,” Maguire said. “That would have meant millions of dollars in more payments for the Midwest.”
While the House committee bill would be good for cotton, he said, other row crops would not do badly. “Over the 10-year life of the bill, Congress would provide $50 billion or 68 percent of the $73.5 billion in additional funding for row crops. This is where the House committee believes the true crisis lies.”
Maguire said the next few weeks would be busy for agriculture. The week of Sept. 10 the House is expected to take up the Ag Committee bill while the Senate Agriculture Committee holds farm bill hearings.
“Also, the Senate is scheduled to take up the agricultural appropriations bill, which has sort of been pushed to the sidelines by the farm bill,” said Maguire. Although it has received less attention, the bill includes one-third funding for boll weevil eradication and other cotton programs.
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman is scheduled to unveil the administration's position on the farm bill during the Senate Ag Committee hearings. It could provide the first clue on the administration's take on the shrinking budget surplus and its impact on farm program spending.
Beyond that, Maguire anticipates tough sledding for cotton in the Senate Ag Committee, which has a much greater Midwestern and, thus, corn and soybean, flavor than the House committee. Both Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa and ranking minority member Richard Lugar of Indiana have voiced their displeasure with the House Committee bill.
“Cotton still has great friends on the Senate Ag Committee (Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas, Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Zell Miller of Georgia and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas) but there is a mid-Western “flavor”/dominance which will certainly provide a challenge to all sun belt crops,” said Maguire. “The dynamics of passing a farm bill in the Senate, where one senator can stop the process, will be very challenging”