The NCC, along with other agricultural organizations, sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to designate a senior member of the White House staff and/or Office of Rural Policy to focus specifically on issues affecting rural America.
As part of the Rebuild Rural Coalition, the NCC co-signed a letter to President Trump encouraging him to prioritize rebuilding rural America’s infrastructure. That Coalition sent another letter to the President in support of the Presidential Advisory Council on Infrastructure asking that panel’s membership to include representatives with specific experience and expertise in rural infrastructure. The letter noted that, “it is imperative that this Council study and make recommendations regarding the appropriate level of federal and private-sector investment in infrastructure projects impacting both urban and rural America including surface transportation, aviation, locks and dams, ports and waterways, agricultural research, broadband, energy, healthcare, housing and water ….” A short time later, the President signed an Executive Order on Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America.
Appreciation was conveyed to Cotton Belt Congressional Members for their help in getting the cotton industry’s key funding priorities included in Congress' omnibus appropriations bill. Included was $2.89 billion for agricultural research with a $1.5 million increase for the three Agricultural Research Service ginning laboratories. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative received a $25 million increase. The Joint Cotton Pests Account for boll weevil and pink bollworm eradication efforts was fully funded at $11.52 million. USDA’s Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program were fully funded at $200 million and $34.5 million, respectively. The NCC also joined other members of the Coalition to Promote U.S. Agricultural Exports on letters to House and Senate leadership of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee urging their strong support for maintaining vital funding for the MAP and FMD in the FY18 Agriculture Appropriations bill.
After the FY18 Agriculture Appropriations bill was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee mid-year, the NCC issued a news release in which NCC Chairman Ronnie Lee thanked Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) for his strong leadership to help ensure a cottonseed policy could be included as part of the final agriculture appropriations measure considered by Congress later in the year. If enacted, the cottonseed policy, which included a number of key provisions from the industry’s cottonseed proposal, would apply beginning with the 2018 cotton crop. The Committee's bill also included funding of $11.52 million for the Joint Cotton Pests Account for boll weevil and pink bollworm eradication activities and additional funding for the USDA Agricultural Research Service ginning laboratories.
Following the Administration’s release of its budget proposal, the NCC issued a statement saying it was prepared to work closely with Congress to ensure that any budget and funding bills approved by Congress continue to provide the resources necessary for policies that promote a viable cotton industry, including an effective safety net in the 2018 farm bill.
The Coalition to Promote U.S. Agricultural Exports, in which the NCC participates, sent a letter to House Agriculture Committee members urging them to support an increase in funding for both MAP and FMD in the next farm bill. The letter cited both programs' provision of critical funding for Cotton Council International to conduct the U.S. cotton industry’s export promotion activities. The NCC also worked with the Coalition and Congress to gain support for S. 1839, the “Cultivating Revitalization by Expanding American Agricultural Trade and Exports Act,” which would increase funding for MAP to $400 million annually and FMD to $69 million annually, with the increases phased in over a five-year period. This was a companion bill to H.R. 2321.
The NCC joined other agricultural organizations on a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate appropriations committees urging them to match the high demand for the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) farm loan programs with an appropriate level of resources in the FY18 appropriations package. The letter noted that “access to credit, specifically credit provided through the FSA farm loan programs, was critical.”
The NCC submitted comments to the Federal Register notice of USDA’s Reorganization proposal saying it believed the proposal would better align USDA’s mission areas and improve USDA's effectiveness in meeting U.S. cotton producers' needs. The comments also noted that cotton producers frequently work with the FSA and Natural Resources Conservation Service staff regarding farm and conservation programs and that the NCC believes having both housed in one mission area would improve the customer experience for producers.
The NCC and other commodity and agricultural groups conveyed support for the Capital for Farmers and Ranchers Act. Introduced by Senators John Boozman (R-AR), Luther Strange (R-AL) and John Hoeven (R-ND), the bill called for increasing the maximum loan amount that an individual farmer or rancher can receive under the FSA’s Direct and Guaranteed Loan Programs for Farm Operating Loans and Farm Ownership Loans.
After the NCC joined 23 other organizations on a letter to House Members urging support for the Commodity End-User Relief Act (H.R. 238), the House passed the bill which eventually was approved by the Senate. The measure reauthorized the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) through 2021, set the agency’s funding level for each fiscal year, and provided relief from some of the most problematic regulations implemented because of the 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation. The bill also made statutory changes to protect end users of commodities and provide producers/end users with access to tools necessary for managing their risks.
Later, the NCC joined with other agricultural organizations on a letter to Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee leadership in support of the nomination and confirmation of Christopher Giancarlo as CFTC chairman. A letter of support from 25 organizations, including the NCC, also was sent to that Committee in support of the three CFTC nominees -- Dawn Stump, Brian Quintenz and Rostin Behnam.
The NCC and 15 other groups, including the National Council of Textile Organizations, sent a letter to the House Rules Committee opposing an amendment filed by Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) to the National Defense Authorization bill. The amendment proposed to waive the Berry Amendment requirement of the Department of Defense for only purchasing U.S. content and U.S.-made apparel and footwear.
The NCC joined more than 150 other organizations on a letter to House and Senate leaders supporting the “Death Tax Repeal Act of 2017” (H.R. 631). Later, another letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the respective chairmen of the House and Senate tax writing panels noted that the groups support the inclusion of full and permanent repeal of the federal estate tax as part of comprehensive tax reform because: 1) repealing the death tax would spur job creation and grow the economy; 2) the death tax contributes a very small portion of federal revenues; 3) a super-majority of likely voters support eliminating the death tax; and 4) ultimately, the death tax is unfair.
As Congress began to consider comprehensive tax reform in late spring, the NCC joined other agricultural organizations on four letters to House Ways and Means Committee leaders conveying support for other specific tax code provisions. The letters focused on: 1) the use of cash accounting; 2) Section 199 expensing; 3) capital gains; and 4) the interest deduction provision.
NCC President/CEO Gary Adams, along with representatives from other agricultural organizations, discussed agriculture's priorities in tax reform with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Following the meeting, Adams said in a statement that, "It is critical to maintain key features such as interest deductions and cash accounting, while also eliminating the death tax and reducing the capital gains tax rate."
Prior to House passage of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (H.R. 1), which included language eliminating the estate tax, the NCC joined 180 other groups on a letter to House leadership expressing concern on elimination of the Section 199 deduction important to agricultural cooperatives. After the Senate passed its tax reform legislation, a House-Senate conference crafted the final legislation which was approved and sent to the President for his signature. The NCC sent a letter to McConnell and Ryan thanking them for crafting and for shepherding through Congress that legislation, saying it would spur economic growth by lowering taxes, and simplifying the tax code for America’s cotton producers and associated businesses.
The NCC was among more than 600 groups from across the agricultural community which sent a letter to Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, urging that Committee to support and encourage an expeditious confirmation of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue to be the Secretary of Agriculture. After Perdue’s confirmation, the NCC issued a statement in which NCC Chairman Lee said, “Sonny Perdue is highly qualified to lead USDA and he can help ensure a strong and viable agricultural and rural economy.”
The NCC later signaled its support of Agriculture Secretary Perdue's: 1) creation of an undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs at USDA -- a recognition of the ever-increasing importance of international trade to American agriculture; 2) renaming of the Farm Production and Conservation mission area to have a customer focus and meet USDA constituents in the field; and 3) elevation of USDA's rural development agencies to report directly to the Secretary in recognition of the need to help promote rural prosperity.
The NCC joined 16 other agricultural groups on a letter to President Trump urging expeditious confirmation of the nomination process for USDA appointees and joined with 36 other agriculture organizations on a letter to Senators Roberts and Stabenow endorsing 1) Bill Northey for USDA Undersecretary of Farm Production and Conservation and 2) Gregory Ibach as USDA Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs.
The NCC was among another group of food and agricultural industry stakeholders which sent another letter to Senators Roberts and Stabenow stating that the organizations looked forward to their committee’s upcoming action to consider USDA sub-cabinet nominations. The group noted that those nominees would bring to USDA critical leadership, technical expertise and fundamental knowledge, and would serve as invaluable assets in executing core mission areas.
The NCC also linked up with other agricultural groups on a letter to the Senate in support of several nominees for positions at USDA. A letter supporting American Soybean Association CEO Steve Censky for the Deputy Secretary post at USDA was sent to Senators from 110 groups as part of the U.S. Food and Agriculture Dialogue for Trade. Another letter from 44 organizations was sent to Senators Roberts and Stabenow in support of Censky. In addition, 23 organizations sent a letter to that Committee in support of the nomination of Dr. Sam Clovis for USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics.
Early in the year, the NCC joined more than 500 organizations on a letter to the leadership of both the House and Senate budget committees as well as the appropriations committees strongly urging them to reject calls for additional cuts to policies within the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry or the House Committee on Agriculture.
After the White House released its “skinny budget” proposal which included a 21 percent cut to USDA discretionary spending compared to current funding, the NCC joined other commodity groups on a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate appropriations and budget committees urging more budget resources for the next farm bill. The letter noted the inadequate safety net for cotton and dairy farmers and the challenges faced by all commodity groups.
The NCC also joined a coalition of commodity, specialty crop, conservation and lending groups in efforts to protect crop insurance. Letters were sent to: 1) the House and Senate appropriations and budget committees, 2) Agriculture Secretary-Designate Perdue, and 3) Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.
Late in the year, the NCC prepared to submit comments to USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) regarding changes to crop insurance policies for the 2018 crop year that RMA published in a final rule in the Federal Register. Following passage of the 2014 farm law, the NCC had been advocating for those changes it said would make crop insurance more accessible and tailored to specific producer needs. Among major changes for 2018 in the rule were a 1) focus on choice of unit structure based on the risk management needs of producers, replant provisions and conservation compliance certification; and 2) revision of the definition of “replanted crop” to address how to calculate production to count in the event of a claim if the insurance provider determines it is not practical to replant and the producer plants the acreage to the same insured crop.
The NCC capitalized on opportunities to share its farm bill priorities at several Congressional hearings.
Tom Lahey, a Kansas cotton and grain producer, testified at the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry's first hearing in preparation for the next farm bill. He focused on the critical need for cotton to be brought back into the Title I commodity policies of the farm bill and why crop insurance alone cannot provide effective risk management.
In testimony presented at “The Next Farm Bill: Commodity Policy Part II,” a hearing conducted by the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, NCC Chairman Lee told the Subcommittee that the NCC looks forward to passage of a farm bill that effectively addresses the needs of all producers of all commodities in all regions. He specifically stated that cotton must be brought back into the farm law’s Title I commodity policy as that would enable cotton producers to access risk management tools that provide protection during prolonged periods of depressed market conditions.
Several NCC leaders addressed a farm bill listening session conducted by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) at the University of Florida. Those included Matt Coley, a Georgia producer/ginner; Sonny Davis, a Florida producer; and Ben Evans and Kent Fountain, both Georgia ginners. All highlighted the importance of cotton regaining eligibility for the Title I support programs of the farm bill. They reminded the Committee of the need for open markets for cotton trade, support for the MAP and FMD program, and maintaining the crop insurance and conservation programs. They emphasized that producers could not withstand any further tightening of payment limits and eligibility tests and that the rules governing “actively engaged in farming” needed revisiting. These points were reiterated by cotton leaders at House Agriculture Committee listening sessions in San Angelo, Texas, and Modesto, California.
In mid-year, Nick McMichen, an Alabama cotton producer, testified on behalf of the NCC at the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee’s hearing, “Commodities, Credit, and Crop Insurance: Perspectives on Risk Management Tools and Trends for the 2018 Farm Bill.” He stated that it is imperative that cotton be included in the next farm bill’s Title I programs so cotton producers can have access to the same complement of risk management tools available to other crops.
The NCC conveyed disappointment that the FY17 omnibus appropriations bill did not include cottonseed policy developed by the U.S. cotton industry in consultation with Congress. In its statement, NCC Chairman Lee said the cottonseed policy is: 1) broadly supported by the entire U.S. cotton industry, as well as many other farm bill stakeholders; 2) budget neutral with the costs offset only by cotton-related provisions; 3) vetted and supported by a broad, bipartisan group in Congress; and 4) designed to help facilitate development of the 2018 farm bill.
The NCC and 82 other cotton interest organizations sent to President Trump a letter requesting economic relief for U.S. cotton farming families with a ginning cost share program. The letter stated that, “The cost share program will provide policy stability in the absence of a comprehensive policy for cotton in the existing farm bill.” Another letter sent to the President and signed by 1,605 agricultural lenders, agribusinesses, and other rural businesses, strongly recommended the Administration use its discretionary authority to assist in this situation and specifically authorize assistance similar to the program that assisted with 2015 ginning costs.
The NCC helped coordinate a tour along Texas’ Gulf Coast for Agriculture Secretary Perdue and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Conaway (R-TX) to inspect damage to cotton and other operations from Hurricane Harvey. Perdue and Conaway also met with representatives from the NCC and Lamesa Cotton Growers in West Texas. The pair toured an area gin and cotton farms and held discussions with industry leaders on issues confronting cotton. NCC Vice Chairman Ron Craft emphasized the need for getting cotton back into the farm bill’s Title I and for a ginning cost share program for the 2016 crop.
Late in the year, the House passed a Supplemental Disaster funding bill that 1) would establish seed cotton as a covered commodity under the 2014 Farm Bill Title I ARC/PLC programs with a Reference Price of $0.367/lb. and 2) include a one-time opportunity to update payment yields along with provisions that will convert generic base acres to decoupled, covered commodity bases. The NCC issued a statement in which Chairman Lee noted, “NCC has been working with Congress for over two years to seek a legislative solution to improve the effectiveness of the cotton safety net in the current farm bill. Our industry greatly appreciates the strong leadership of Chairman Conaway (R-TX), Chairman Aderholt (R-AL), Ranking Member Bishop (D-GA), Ranking Member Peterson (D-MN), and Rep. Arrington (R-TX) to help advance this important policy through the House. Cotton producing families across the Cotton Belt are continuing to suffer with low prices and increased input costs, compounded this year by natural disasters in major cotton-producing areas.”
In other activity, the NCC:
- issued a news release saying it appreciated President Trump’s appointment of Ray Starling to the position of Special Assistant to the President for Agriculture, Trade and Food Assistance.
- teamed with the ACSA and AMCOT to convey to USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) recommendations on FSA’s annual survey of cotton’s average costs to market. The survey results were used in the determination of the upland cotton adjusted world price that determines marketing assistance loan program benefits and potential payments under the extra-long staple competitiveness program.
- joined other agricultural and trucking organizations on a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao regarding the negative impact of two substantial Department of Transportation rulemakings advanced under the previous administration - the Electronic Logging Device mandate and speed limiter proposed rule. The organizations emphasized that, collectively, these rulemakings “would cost our industries more than $2.845 billion to implement, without providing any meaningful safety or economic value to our members or the American public.”
- teamed with the National Cotton Ginners Association on an Agriculture Workforce Coalition letter sent to President Trump regarding needed immigration reforms to address the agricultural labor shortage.
- reminded producers new to farming or who did not receive a Census of Agriculture in 2012 that they had through June 2017 to sign up to receive USDA’s 2017 Census of Agriculture report form. The NCC later reminded all producers to participate in that late-2017 conducted Census because their voice could help shape American agriculture, including its policies, services, and assistance programs, for years.