The struggle to pass the Agricultural Act of 2014 started many years ago and the road was marred by setbacks, deep-rooted political divisions, many delays, and a great deal of controversy over multiple issues. But most farmers and farm-friendly advocates agree, the struggle was well worth the journey.
While farmers and ranchers indeed have a new farm bill, the real journey is just now getting underway. How will new legislation affect farmers, specific crops, and farm support in the years ahead?
The National Cotton Council (NCC) is spearheading a series of 49 educational meetings across the Cotton Belt in an effort to inform its many members on what to expect once the final rules of the new legislation are worked out and implemented into the system.
The meeting series kicked off in El Campo, Victoria and Robstown this week before moving south to the Rio Grande Valley, a precursor to a more intense campaign of regional meetings set to get underway all across Texas—and the entire Cotton Belt— in the middle of March.
Outgoing National Cotton Council Chairman and Robstown cotton producer Jimmy Dodson, NCC Vice President Craig Brown, and other NCC staff were on hand to welcome South Texas cotton producers Tuesday, Feb. 25, at the Richard Borchard Fairgrounds in Robstown.
Dodson welcomed a packed house of 90-plus fellow cotton growers who turned out for the morning session.
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"The information we will be offering here today is based upon the National Cotton Council's understanding of the new law and we will allow time for questions and discussions," Dodson told area growers. "There is no such thing as a dumb question; there is a lot of new information that needs to be shared."
He said NCC would continue to monitor how the legislation will be implemented in the days and weeks ahead and keep producers updated with the latest developments as they are incorporated into policy.
Craig Brown, who was charged with walking producers through the coming changes as they affect cotton growers, says the new legislation presents a number of choices that each producer will face.
"With all the changes coming, we decided to get out early in this process with a series of information meetings across the Cotton Belt. We urge producers, ginners, agri businessmen, crop insurance agents, anyone interested in a better understanding of the basic components of the farm bill to attend these meetings and other informational meetings about the coming changes," Brown told Southwest Farm Press.
He said even after this initial series of meetings on the farm bill, NCC will probably come back later in the year once more is known about crop insurance changes that won't go into affect until 2015. He called the process an evolving issue that needs to be monitored in an effort to keep growers informed.
Brown, utilizing a series of slides, led Coastal Bend producers through a series of topics, calling it a "preliminary overview."
"The Agricultural Act of 2014 provides a number of fundamental changes in cotton's safety net. Now that DP and CCP programs have been discontinued, there will be a greater reliance on crop insurance products," he said.
He warned that across commodities, growers will face new program choices and said they need to understand those choices before making a decision of how and when to participate.
For cotton producers, new insurance will be available in 2015, and 2014 will be transitional he said.
"As far as STAX calculations, the maximum coverage band is 90 percent to 70 percent of expected county income. If actual county income falls below 90 percent of expected county income, an indemnity will be triggered," he explained.
Brown also talked about other aspects of STAX and moved the presentation into the supplemental coverage options available in 2015. Other topics covered included upland cotton marketing loans, other Title 1 cotton provisions, price loss coverage (PLC) for growers, agriculture risk coverage (ARC), and payment acres for PLC or ARC.
Fielding questions, Brown also talked about the definition of "actively engaged in farming” provisions of the new farm bill and how that will affect growers, including who is and who isn't considered as family involved in management according to the legislation.
"The way we understand it, the final decision on how that will be defined will be left up to USDA," he said.
Before closing out the two-hour session, Brown talked about conservation programs and how they are addressed in the new farm bill and trade programs, including language intended to resolve Brazil's dispute to GSM.
For a complete schedule of when and where the educational series will visit your area, visit the National Cotton Council website.