Following Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue's announcement of a Cotton Ginning Cost Share (CGCS) program for a cotton producer’s 2016 crop, the NCC issued a statement in which National Cotton Council (NCC) Chairman Ron Craft said, “The U.S. cotton industry strongly commends Secretary Perdue for his efforts to deliver much-needed marketing assistance for our nation’s cotton producers.” Craft noted that the CGCS would: 1) provide direct marketing assistance to producers, 2) help alleviate a portion of the economic conditions producers were struggling with and 3) help to fill the safety net void until the seed cotton program under the Agriculture Risk Coverage/Price Loss Coverage (ARC/PLC) was implemented beginning with the 2018 crop year.
Later in the spring, NCC Vice Chairman Mike Tate praised Secretary Perdue for 1) implementing the Cotton Ginning Cost Share (CGCS) program and 2) his support for maintaining seed cotton in the 2018 farm bill. That occurred during Secretary Perdue's tour of Sam Spruell's north Alabama farm where he participated in a roundtable discussion with producers and representatives from the NCC and the Alabama Farmers Federation. Tate and NCC President/CEO Gary Adams also expressed appreciation to Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) for arranging that visit and for Aderholt’s efforts in getting seed cotton included into the 2014 farm law as part of the supplemental disaster bill.
The NCC conveyed its support of the Senate’s confirmation of Bill Northey to serve as USDA’s Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service and issued a statement saying it was pleased with the Senate’s confirmation of key officials in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). Those were: Gregg Doud as USTR Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Dennis Shea as Deputy USTR (Geneva) and C. J. Mahoney as Deputy USTR (Investment, Services, Labor, Environment, Africa, China, and the Western Hemisphere). The NCC earlier had signed onto a letter with other commodity organizations and agribusiness companies urging prompt confirmation of these nominees.
The omnibus spending package approved by Congress to fund the government for the remainder of FY18 included full funding for the boll weevil and pink bollworm eradication programs. The package also included funding for the USDA Agricultural Research Service ginning laboratories’ research and other programs important to the cotton industry, including $1.25 million for research to address whitefly control in the Southeast for cotton and other crops.
The $1.3 trillion bill, later signed by President Trump, also made changes (effective retroactive to January 1, 2018) to the previously-approved Tax Cuts and Jobs Act by including language to address the marketplace impacts of the Section 199A business income deduction. The NCC previously had urged Congress to address this concern by including a modified Section 199A provision in the omnibus bill.
Throughout consideration of the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the NCC remained engaged in a stakeholder coalition to protect the Berry Amendment policy requiring the Department of Defense to purchase only U.S. content and U.S.-made apparel and footwear. That included a coalition letter to the House Armed Services Committee's chairman and ranking member urging rejection of any amendments that would have weakened the protections provided by the Berry Amendment. The Committee rejected those amendments when it later approved the NDAA.
The NCC joined with 15 other organizations on a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Financial Services in support of full funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The letter emphasized that adequate funding is necessary for the CFTC to put in place the needed staff and resources to fully carry out its mission of ensuring the commodity futures markets are functioning properly to provide price discovery and risk management.
The NCC, along with several other industry groups, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) strongly supporting the nominations of Dawn DeBerry Stump and Dan Berkovitz as CFTC commissioners.
The NCC assessed the damages from Hurricanes Florence and Michael and worked with industry leadership in the affected areas in preparation for submitting recommendations to Congress regarding options to provide the needed relief to cotton producers and other crop producers. That included the NCC joining with regional/state cotton organizations and state farm bureaus in the Southeast in sending a letter to leadership of the House and Senate agriculture committees and agriculture appropriations subcommittees. The letter, which requested an agricultural disaster relief package in response to the two hurricanes’ devastation, noted the significant need that existed due to an estimated $800 million plus in cotton losses in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
As part of its ongoing work with Congress to advance an agricultural disaster package, the NCC encouraged support for letters that were sent late in the year to House and Senate leadership by multiple Representatives and Senators urging Congress to pass agriculture disaster assistance prior to adjourning.
Following Congress’ passage of a supplemental disaster bill early in 2018, the NCC issued a statement saying it greatly appreciated Members for approving the bill that included critically needed policy that restored eligibility for cotton in the Title I ARC/PLC programs of the 2014 farm law. The NCC issued a statement noting that it had worked for more than two years to get stabilizing policy in place in advance of the 2018 farm bill and that it would continue to work with Congress and the Administration to get a new farm bill enacted.
A few weeks later, the NCC hosted regional information conference calls/webinars regarding provisions of the recently authorized 2018 seed cotton farm program. The webinars, held for NCC members across the Cotton Belt, covered specifics such as examples of support levels under various price scenarios and examples of generic base conversion options. The NCC prepared and posted on its website a 2018 Seed Cotton Program Summary, a 2018 Seed Cotton PLC Payment Matrix and a Frequently Asked Questions document addressing numerous questions received during the NCC webinars. Later, the NCC also: 1) posted answers to additional questions along with updates from USDA regarding the policy’s implementation, 2) worked with USDA’s Farm Service Agency to ensure the legislation was implemented consistent with Congressional intent and purpose, and 3) vigorously reminded producer members of the program’s December 7, 2018, signup deadline.
Throughout 2018, the NCC consistently expressed its support of farm law reauthorization.
One of the first actions was joining with 34 other agricultural and rural organizations on a letter to the leaders of the Senate and House agriculture committees urging them to reauthorize and fund the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network in the 2018 farm bill. That program was established in the 2008 farm law to provide grants to extension services and nonprofit organizations which offer stress assistance programs to individuals engaged in farming, ranching, and other agriculture-related occupations.
Soon after, the NCC conveyed its appreciation of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway’s (R-TX) introduction of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2). The NCC stated the bill continued several key policies important to cotton producers and the entire U.S. cotton industry. Among those were the centerpieces of the cotton safety net -- continuation of ‘seed cotton’ as a covered commodity eligible for the ARC/PLC program with the current reference price of $0.367/lb., maintaining crop insurance options, and continuation of the upland cotton marketing loan program. The bill also would simplify how program limitations were applied and addressed a current concern with the overly narrow family member definition for program eligibility. Prior to the Committee’s session to consider H.R. 2, the NCC and 45 other cotton organizations sent a letter to Chairman Conaway noting their support for his Committee’s consideration of the bill. Simultaneously, the NCC prepared and posted on its website a summary of select H.R. 2 provisions for NCC members.
In mid-May, the NCC issued a statement in which it urged the House to approve H.R. 2 without any damaging amendments to farm policy. The NCC also joined onto two letters regarding the importance of maintaining sound policy in H.R. 2.
The first letter, from the NCC and 64 other agriculture, insurance and conservation organizations, urged House Members to oppose harmful amendments to crop insurance that would: 1) reduce or limit participation in crop insurance, 2) make insurance more expensive for farmers during a time of economic downturn in agriculture, or 3) harm private-sector delivery. Another letter to House Members from more than 300 agricultural, crop insurance and lending groups conveyed strong opposition to amendments that could hurt farm families.
Prior to the floor debate, the NCC also joined 30 other stakeholders in sending a letter to Chairman Conaway thanking him for his leadership in addressing regulatory issues in the 2018 farm bill’s Title IX. Among the proposed improvements, which were important policy changes the NCC had been advocating, were: 1) corrections for requiring water permits for pesticide applications; 2) correcting the stalled endangered species consultation process that slows pesticide registrations; 3) advancing states as co-regulators with federal agencies; and 4) reauthorizing private funding for EPA’s registration review process for pesticides.
Following House passage of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 by a 213-211 vote in June, the NCC issued a statement saying it strongly supported the farm policy provisions in that legislation and believed its passage was an extremely important and strong step toward providing much needed stability to the U.S. cotton industry. NCC Chairman Ron Craft stated that, “our industry is tremendously grateful for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway’s (R-TX) leadership in the development of this legislation and getting it to a successful vote in the House.”
Prior to the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee's consideration and eventual approval of its version of the farm bill (S. 3042, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018), the NCC joined with 68 other organizations on a letter to that Committee urging support for the bill and opposition to any damaging amendments. In addition, the NCC coordinated a letter, led by Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Doug Jones (D-AL) with 12 other Cotton Belt Senators, to the Committee urging support for a balanced bill that protected cotton priorities -- including seed cotton in ARC/PLC, the Economic Adjustment Assistance Program (EAAP) and extra-long staple cotton provisions.
Because of amendments approved during that Committee’s markup, the EAAP for U.S. textile mills was eliminated as well as cotton storage credits as part of the marketing loan program. As a result, the NCC, in conjunction with the National Council of Textile Organizations, continued a broad-based effort in the Senate to restore funding for EAAP as the bill proceeded to the Senate floor for consideration. NCC members were strongly encouraged to contact their Senators and urge them to sign a letter drafted by Senators Isakson and Jones that sought restoration of EAAP funding in S. 3042.
After the Senate passed its version of the 2018 farm bill (the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018) in late June, the NCC issued a news release noting some serious shortcomings with the bill. The NCC stated that it looked forward to working with its supporters in the House and Senate throughout the conference committee process to achieve the U.S. cotton industry’s policy priorities in the final legislation.
A letter to the leadership of the Senate and House agriculture committees and all 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee members was sent from the NCC and 66 other cotton and related industry organizations. That letter outlined the key priorities and concerns for the cotton industry as Congress worked to resolve the differences in the House and Senate versions of the farm bill. The NCC joined onto another mid-August letter from a broad coalition of more than 150 agriculture, commodity, lending, conservation, nutrition, and rural organizations. That letter was sent to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate agriculture committees urging completion of the new farm bill ahead of the September 30 expiration of 2014 farm law.
As a part of these efforts, Chairman Craft led a delegation of 12 other cotton industry leaders to Washington, DC, where they visited 40 Congressional offices, principally the farm bill conferees in both houses, to emphasize the industry’s priorities and concerns in the House and Senate versions of the farm bill.
The NCC applauded Congress’ final passage of the new farm bill in December. NCC Chairman Craft attended a December 20 ceremony where President Trump signed the new farm bill into law. The NCC then posted on its website detailed summaries/explanations of the key farm law provisions after they were publicly released and began working with USDA on their implementation.
In other activity, the NCC:
• posted on its website a summary (with signup examples) of the 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program that the NCC prepared after Agriculture Secretary Perdue announced that producers affected by hurricanes and wildfires in 2017 could apply for assistance to help recover and rebuild their farming operations.
• reminded producers late in the year of the insurance period's end and their ability to gain more time for harvest as excessive rain/snow had delayed harvest for some producers.
• welcomed Agriculture Secretary Perdue’s appointment of Rickey Bearden, a Plains, Texas, cotton producer, to a four-year term on the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation Board which oversees the federal crop insurance program managed by USDA’s Risk Management Agency.
• joined with members of the Coalition to Promote U.S. Agricultural Exports on a letter to those leaders and conferees in support of the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program – both important programs utilized by Cotton Council International.
• compiled and posted on its website a detailed 2018 mid-term election results roundup, which included a list of the freshmen Cotton Belt Congressional Members.
• responded to Senator Thad Cochran’s (R-MS) announcement regarding his April 1, 2018, retirement with a statement noting that he is “a highly effective legislator and a true statesman who consistently supported the U.S. cotton industry and all of agriculture during his long career.”