The NCC, along with 84 other organizations that included several cotton producer interest groups, signed on to a letter of appreciation to the co-sponsors of the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2013 (H.R. 935). The bill was identical to legislation in the 112th Congress (H.R. 872) that was passed by the House in 2011 and later approved by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. H.R. 935 would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA) to clarify congressional intent and eliminate the requirements of a CWA permit for the use of FIFRA-registered pesticides. The bill was jointly referred to the committees on Agriculture and Transportation & Infrastructure.
The NCC and other agricultural groups believed these permits would impose a redundant and unnecessary regulatory and liability burden on pesticide applicators. They cited the permitting as a paperwork exercise that will provide no additional environmental protection but only result in additional regulatory costs for both states and pesticide applicators. They noted that pesticide users also would be subject to increased risk of litigation under the CWA's citizen suit provision.
The NCC supported H.R. 935, legislation that would eliminate the duplicative requirements of a Clean Water Act permit for the use of registered pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act.
Joining 161 other agricultural organizations, the NCC also was party to a letter to the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee expressing strong support for the inclusion of a provision in the 2013 farm bill that would overturn the 2009 court decision and eliminate the duplicative EPA regulation on pesticides. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) led a bipartisan group of 12 Senators in pushing for the provision's inclusion.
The NCC and seven other organizations -- because of the potential impact on agriculture-- were all granted status as interveners in the so-called "Megasuit" after the Northern California District Court dismissed this most recent and far reaching lawsuit on Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultation. Under the ESA, EPA is required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (the "Services") when registering pesticides in order to participate in settlement discussions. In January 2011, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Pesticide Action Network (Plaintiffs) filed suit against EPA for failing to consult with the "Services" regarding the effects of 306 registered pesticides on 216 endangered species throughout the United States (hence the name "Megasuit"). Of the listed pesticides, 17 are the most commonly used agricultural pesticides, such as 2-4D, aldicarb, atrazine, and methyl bromide and its alternatives. The court found that the plaintiffs must show a specific agency action – not just the ongoing agency discretion underlying pesticide registration – for each of the 382 pesticides. Also, the court held that where pesticide registrations are at issue, the FIFRA applies with regard to subject matter jurisdiction and that the plaintiffs needed to make specific pleadings supporting district court versus federal court as the proper venue. In 2013, the plaintiffs amended their complaint to focus on 50 pesticide groups (down from 382) and encompassing 78 chemicals.
The NCC continued to support legislation introduced by Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) -- the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship (FUELS) Act (S. 496) -- that would alleviate the regulatory burden and costs of compliance with EPA's Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure Program (SPCC) rule. The FUELS Act would raise the compliance threshold requirement to a more realistic and practical level and allow self-certification rather than requiring a detailed plan by a professional engineer.
The FY13 Continuing Resolution contained a provision, added by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), that prohibited enforcement of the SPCC during the remainder of FY13 which ended on September 30, 2013. EPA had stated that the May 10, 2013, effective date for farms was still in force and the agency would enforce retroactively beginning on October 1, 2013. A version of the FUELS Act was included in the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 approved by the Senate, 83-14. The NCC earlier had sent a letter to Senators Inhofe and David Pryor (D-AR) conveying the cotton industry's support for their efforts to advance S. 496 by including it as an amendment in that act.
Later, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved two bills by voice vote -- the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2013 (H.R. 935) and the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship Act (the FUELS Act, H.R. 311). NCC staff, along with other agricultural groups, had been urging the farm bill conferees to maintain these bills' provisions in the final farm legislation.
Regarding food safety, the NCC alerted its members of new rules issued by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Because the FDA definition of food includes animal feed – ginners and cottonseed crushers/merchandisers must now register their operations with the FDA on a biennial basis.
The NCC also joined a number of other organizations on a Congressional letter opposing S. 809 and H.R. 1699, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, respectively. If passed, the bill would require the FDA to mandate labels for food with genetically engineered (GE) ingredients, including food produced using genetically engineered seeds. NCC policy opposes mandatory labeling of GE foods on the grounds that it would violate a long-standing FDA policy to limit mandatory labeling except when there are substantial differences in the products such as nutritional value or allergens. The NCC also believes that such labeling would be used by anti-biotech groups to steer consumers away from buying GE products and would have a negative impact on future technologies.
The NCC's Environmental Task Force (ETF) developed proposed changes to the current policies dealing with biotechnology covered by the NCC's Health, Safety, and Environmental Quality Committee. The recommendations followed a discussion on various biotechnology issues, including: 1) post-patent traits and the biotechnology industry's recent accord to deal with such traits; 2) international trade in cottonseed and cottonseed products; and 3) international approvals for biotechnology imports.
ETF members were kept updated on other issues, including the SPCC rule and the ESA as it relates to pesticide registrations, pollinators and the potential impacts of new transgenic traits in cotton and other crops.
Late in the year, the NCC submitted comments to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service requesting that the agency delay a decision on whether the Lesser Prairie Chicken should be listed as a threatened species under the ESA until more information is available on its resiliency and response to the numerous local, state and regional efforts underway to conserve and improve its habitat.
Mississippi cotton producer Patrick Johnson, Jr., a NCC Environmental Task Force member, conveyed the industry's views on the pollinator protection issue.
The NCC told American Honey Producers Association convention attendees that U.S. cotton was concerned with the level of attention being given to pesticides as a factor of declining bee colonies. It was noted cotton's environmental footprint has improved over time and the industry is interested in working with producers and beekeepers to identify improvements at local levels rather than mandates that do not fit an individual production region's different needs.
The NCC attended a Project Apis m. (PAm) Honey Bee Health Summit, which included news media, beekeepers, commodity organizations and scientists from various federal and state institutions. PAm has infused more than $1.5 million into bee research since 2006 to provide growers with healthier bees resulting in better pollination and increased crop yields. The Council also participated with other stakeholders in a USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Visioning Conference in Arizona. The purpose was to convey the research plans developed from stakeholder needs and concerns provided to ARS at the 2012 Honey Bee Health Conference.
Patrick Johnson, Jr., a Tunica, MS, cotton producer and member of NCC's Environmental Task Force and EPA's Farm, Ranch, and Rural Community Advisory Committee, conveyed the NCC's concerns with the honeybee/pesticide registration issue in a meeting with newly confirmed EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Earlier, after a USDA/EPA study confirmed there were a wide range of causes for colony collapse disorder, a group of beekeepers and environmentalists filed an appeal against EPA for its registration of sulfoxaflor, which has been advocated by cotton specialists in the Mid-South for plant bug control. The NCC worked closely with EPA, beekeepers and the product's registrants to find workable solutions to these concerns.
EPA was supportive of a NCC proposal to conduct regional pilot projects in which farmers and beekeepers are surveyed to determine the cooperative management practices that they utilize. The NCC prepared and is currently conducting the survey.
The 2013 NCC Joint Cotton Industry Bale Packaging Committee's (JCIBPC) Specifications for Cotton Bale Packaging Materials were approved by USDA for packaging 2013-crop cotton for Commodity Credit Corporation loan program purposes.
Chaired by California ginner Stan Creelman, the JCIBPC added a 20x8 woven polypropylene spiral-sewn bag and a ¾" by 0.055" PET strap for P600 or P361 Friction Weld Technology® Systems to the 2013 JCIBPC Specifications for Cotton Bale Packaging Materials. The JCIBPC granted requests for continued testing of two light-weight cotton bale bags, one woven polypropylene bale bag using a modified construction, an automatically formed, filled and sealed bale bagger using modified PE film and three compatibility test programs for PET strap. Compatibility test programs are based on a bale packaging specifications provision that requires PET strap manufacturers to not only provide strapping that meets or exceeds the current specifications for PET strapping but to demonstrate that the PET strap is compatible with patented z-weld friction technology® systems and P600 or P361 friction weld technology® strapping systems.
The NCC monitored the weekly bales made available for shipment flow reports and updated its "U.S. Warehouses Not Complying with Mandatory Reporting" page, www.cotton.org/tech/flow/whsnotrept.cfm. The NCC also submitted comments supporting the Commodity Credit Corporation's (CCC) proposed amendment to the regulations that affect how bales that are on shipping orders but not picked up by shippers are to be treated on subsequent weekly warehouse reports. The amendment, if finalized, would apply to all CCC-approved warehouses storing cotton.
The NCC joined with other organizations in sending several letters to both the United States Maritime Alliance, Ltd., the International Longshoremen's Assoc. and the Obama Administration encouraging negotiations to avoid a strike. The two sides subsequently voted to ratify a new six-year master contract.
The NCC, along with a number of U.S. cotton industry members and organizations, sent letters of support for Louis Dreyfus Commodities' Michael Symonanis, who was nominated to serve on the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Freight Advisory Committee.
Permanent Bale Identification (PBI) tags can track contaminants found in some cotton bales back to specific gins.
Permanent Bale Identification (PBI) tags were used to track the plastics and other foreign materials found in some cotton bales back to specific gins and cotton farms. This was a catalyst for the NCC to escalate its awareness effort with producer and ginner organizations – to ensure these industry members remained focused on making sure the lint in cotton bales is contamination free. Continued focus also was placed on the importance of round module management from staging in the field through the safe and complete removal of the wrap that protects the seed cotton prior to ginning.
The NCC encouraged its producer members to reference "The Seed Treatment Stewardship Guide" available in PDF format at www.seed-treatment-guide.com. Compiled by the American Seed Trade Association and CropLife America, the industrywide initiative provides farmers and seed companies with critical information and up-to-date guidelines for managing treated seed effectively to further minimize the risk of exposure to non-target organisms.
On other technical issues:
The NCC cooperated with the National Cotton Ginners Association on the three 2013 Ginner Schools: Southwest Ginners School in Lubbock, TX; Western Ginners School in Las Cruces, NM; and the Stoneville Ginners School, Stoneville, MS.
Sledge Taylor, a Como, MS, producer/ginner, was elected chairman of the Universal Standards Advisory Committee at the 29th annual Universal Standards Conference. Among that panel's recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture for consideration was adoption of cotton trash standards as a universal cotton standard. If approved, the instrument trash standard would serve as the official reference standard for the cotton trash measurements of percent area and particle count.
Among members of USDA's Agricultural Air Quality Task Force members reappointed for the 2013-15 term were: Kevin Rogers, Arizona; Annette Sharp, Louisiana; Bryan Shaw, Robert Avant and Brock Faulkner, all of Texas; and Bill Norman, NCC vice president, Technical Services, Tennessee.