eadership and vision exercised by the NCC three years ago resulted in passage of The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002. The farm law contained principles developed by a NCC Leadership Group appointed in late 1999. Those principles were pursued vigorously throughout the entire policymaking and legislative process, culminating in a cotton program that will improve the farm income safety net and competitive position of U.S. cotton.
Just as policy objectives were important, so was adequate funding and timely implementation of the new legislation. Lawmakers were encouraged to pass new legislation even though the FAIR Act had one more year to run. Once the final bill was passed, USDA moved quickly to develop implementation rules for a bill that in many ways was quite different from the 1995 Act.
The NCC’s 2002 year began with a unified and focused effort to repel payment limit amendments. After Congressional members were apprised of the negative impacts of such changes, several state delegations signed letters urging rejection of any measures that would unfairly target commercial-sized cotton operations. Southern Cotton Growers and Plains Cotton Growers delegations went to Capitol Hill, where they were joined by every major commodity group and most general farm organizations in opposing the payment limit amendments. Cotton Belt bankers also joined the effort by communicating the impact of payment limits on production financing.
American Cotton Producers Chairman Mark Williams was joined by representatives of other producer and cooperative interests in expressing concerns with the Grassley-Dorgan amendment to key Senators. This appeal was reinforced by a coalition of cotton and textile industry associations. Eventually, several Senators co-signed a letter from Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) urging Senate farm bill conferees not to include such language in their farm legislation.
Chairman Hood conveyed U.S. cotton’s priorities on farm law, trade and appropriations to key Congressional members and the Administration. His message included a request for adequate and stable funding for commodity programs.
To remove uncertainty about the 2002 crop, quick Congressional approval of the House/Senate Conference farm bill agreement was urged. House Cotton Belt conferees Larry Combest (R-TX), Charles Stenholm (D-TX), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Richard Pombo (R-CA), Terry Everett (R-AL), Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Cal Dooley (D-CA) worked to ensure that cotton’s priorities were addressed in the legislation. On the Senate side, Cotton Belt conferees Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Jesse Helms (R-NC) played important roles in shaping the final product. Majority Leader Daschle (D-SD) helped steer the Conference Committee toward a workable compromise. Although not members of the conference, Senators Lincoln (D-AR), Zell Miller (D-GA), John Breaux (D-LA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), John Edwards (D-NC), Jean Carnahan (D-MO) and Ernest Hollings (D-SC) kept Senate leaders focused on cotton’s priorities and producing workable legislation.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Combest, with the help of Rep. Stenholm, successfully guided new farm legislation through Conference and the House, capping an effort that began in 2000 with nationwide input hearings. Senate approval followed quickly. The bill maintains key elements of the FAIR Act, such as direct payments, the marketing loan, the three-entity rule and marketing certificates. Important new provisions include countercyclical payments and the option of retaining or updating current AMTA base acres and program yields on those payments. President Bush signed the bill after passage and noted that it offered farmers and ranchers a better safety net and was consistent with U.S. trade obligations.
NCC immediately arranged and conducted more than 40 meetings across the Cotton Belt to review the law’s key provisions. The resulting producer input was provided to USDA, as were NCC comments to the agency’s proposal for changes.
Even before the new farm law could be implemented, it drew criticism from the national news media, fueled largely by misleading information posted on the Environmental Working Group’s web site. A June 26 Wall Street Journal article charged that U.S. subsidies were creating a world cotton glut and damaging foreign cotton farms. The NCC responded to this and other misinformation. Industry members were supplied with guest editorials, columns and fact sheets for help in rebutting misleading and negative press in their communities. Dr. Mark Lange also countered the unjustified criticism of the cotton program at an International Cotton Advisory Committee forum in Washington.
This information, along with numerous NCC Action Requests, was placed on the NCC’s web site. Site upgrades were made to ensure www.cotton.org remained the premier central online information source about the U.S. cotton industry. NCC economists created a web-based worksheet to assist growers in assessing their alternatives regarding base acres and program yields under the new law.
Chairman Hood also promptly invited commodity and general farm organizations from the Commodity Roundtable to develop a coordinated farm bill defense plan. Realizing that changing public opinion on farm policy was a long-term and expensive process, the Commodity Roundtable group agreed on the need to continue communicating the benefits of U.S. agriculture policy. The NCC already had in place a parallel effort in the "Cotton Counts" consumer awareness campaign carried out by the National Cotton Women’s Committee to increase appreciation of the U.S. cotton industry.
Roundtable participants conveyed their support for the new farm law with selected Congressional members and issued a statement during a Washington news briefing that urged no changes be made to that legislation. During the July 4 recess, industry leaders and agricultural financial institutions urged Congressional members to work actively in opposing harmful amendments.
At the NCC’s request, Secretary of Agriculture Veneman announced an initial advance counter-cyclical payment for the 2002 crop at the maximum allowable rate with a second advance payment to be made available in February 2003 if USDA projected that effective prices would remain below the target price.
The NCC also was an advocate for a workable conservation title. Educational tours were provided for key Congressional and Natural Resource Conservation Service staff to help them in their development of the new Conservation Security Program. NRCS was urged to deem no-till and strip-till as acceptable practices for resource management under the program and to implement it in a farm friendly manner. Alabama producer Larkin Martin participated in a NRCS Summit and stressed that a third party Technical Service Provider system is vital to the success of conservation programs. NCC staff and several regional cotton organizations also participated in the National Conference on Farm Bill Conservation Opportunities to hear from NRCS on the latest program developments and discuss conservation opportunities.
In other key legislative matters, the NCC: