Cotton Council Joins in Call for Disaster Assistance
Cotton producers Ronnie Fleming and Rickey Bearden were among a group of more than 100 farmers, ranchers and rural business leaders across the nation who urged lawmakers on Capitol Hill to approve legislation to provide financial assistance to cover losses due to weather-related disasters in 2001 and 2002.
WASHINGTON, DC – Ronnie Fleming, a North Carolina cotton producer and Rickey Bearden, a Texas cotton producer, were among a group of more than 100 farmers, ranchers and rural business leaders who were in Washington Jan. 8 and 9 to urge lawmakers to approve legislation to provide financial assistance to cover losses due to weather-related disasters in 2001 and 2002.
Fleming, president of Southern Cotton Growers and Bearden, vice president of Plains Cotton Growers Association, represented the National Cotton Council, which is a member of a coalition of 36 farm groups seeking disaster assistance. The coalition says the assistance for farmers, like that provided to home and business owners who suffered financial losses due to natural disaster, must come from emergency funds not from farm program cuts. During their visit to Washington coalition members met key members of Congress and the Administration.
The coalition is recommending disaster assistance that: 1) is all-inclusive, 2) covers production and quality losses for field crops, specialty crops and livestock, and 3) address all natural disasters - including drought, flood and excessive rain, insect infestation, frost, and freeze damage. They asked that the assistance cover losses for both 2001 and 2002 production years because producers suffering disaster losses both years are the most economically fragile and financial assistance provided to farmers ultimately benefits rural communities, businesses, schools and churches. They also asked that long-term programs authorized in the new farm bill not be cut because it is those programs are intended to address other priorities such as providing a safety-net for low prices - a feature not absent from the 1996 farm law, enhanced conservation programs, environmental protection, nutrition programs and rural development.
In addition, the coalition pointed out that existing crop insurance and commodity disaster programs are inadequate to meet needs. While the Secretary has utilized virtually all her discretionary authority to provide some targeted assistance, over 83% of the counties in the US have received disaster assistance declarations, affecting all segments of production agriculture, including program and specialty crops as well as livestock. According to USDA, net farm income is expected to decline by 22 percent from 2001 levels.
For cotton, adverse weather conditions cut projected production by more than 1 million bales. Drought conditions harmed the growing season, and a series of storms hit during harvest, inflicting continued quality and quantity losses on fiber and seed. In the Southeast and Mid-South, only 55 percent of the crop achieved a color grade of Strict Low Middling or better. This compares to a five-year average of 81 percent.