One hundred U.S. congressmen from cotton-growing states are pressing the Obama administration for price supports to help struggling U.S. farmers, in the first push to introduce new subsidies since losing a trade case with Brazil last year.
The House of Representatives members have signed a letter urging Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to allow cottonseed, a secondary product of the crop valued mainly for its fiber, to qualify for subsidies available to other oilseeds.
Mike Conaway, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, intends to send out the letter this week, committee spokeswoman Haley Graves said. Conaway is a representative from top cotton-producing state Texas.
The industry's support program was gutted in the 2014 Farm Bill after the United States settled a trade case with Brazil with promises that it would not give direct subsidies for fiber. But cottonseed, a byproduct, can be made eligible.
"It makes it more challenging to talk about support directly to the lint side," said Gary Adams, president of the National Cotton Council (NCC), an industry group. "We're looking at seed as an alternative that doesn't raise those trade concerns."
Other crops such as soybeans are eligible for two U.S. Department of Agriculture programs which pay producers when their revenue from a commodity or that commodity's price falls below a certain level.
The 2014 Farm Bill allows the USDA to designate crops as "other oilseeds" for purposes of the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs, according to a copy of the letter posted on the NCC's website. No legislative action would be required to add cottonseed to the list of eligible commodities, Adams said.
Cottonseed generally accounts for 20-25 percent of overall cotton-related revenue for farmers, and is primarily used as feed for dairy livestock, Adams said.
The industry also hopes to circulate a similar letter to Vilsack for U.S. senators from cotton belt states to sign, said David Ruppenicker, chief executive of Southern Cotton Growers, which represents producers across six states.
Agricultural lenders across the cotton belt have sent letters to Vilsack in recent weeks urging him to add cottonseed to the program, Ruppenicker said.
On Wednesday, cotton industry representatives argued for ARC and PLC assistance in testimony to the House Agriculture Committee.