Among challenges to the U.S. cotton industry’s competitiveness are securing an improved safety net for producers, making inroads against the competition from man-made fibers, maintaining U.S. cotton’s supply chain reputation and averting burdensome regulations.
Is cottonseed policy attainable?
Obtaining cottonseed eligibility in farm bill support programs is a key National Cotton Council priority. We believe it can be a viable safety net component for cotton producers and can help ease the industry’s economic pressures. Our most recent Congressional efforts involved coordination with our Congressional allies on a strong push to get the NCC’s cottonseed proposal included in the Continuing Resolution approved last month. That didn’t succeed, but House and Senate appropriations committees are expected to begin working soon on a more expansive FY17 funding package. It could serve as the next potential legislative vehicle for including the NCC’s cottonseed proposal. As such, NCC and Congressional staff are working on any necessary proposal modifications. The NCC will pursue other avenues as well, including garnering more attention for cottonseed eligibility during 2017 Congressional hearings regarding the 2018 farm bill reauthorization.
What about the man-made fiber challenge?
Cotton’s share of world fiber consumption continues to decline. A major reason is global synthetic fiber production capacity is three times the level of world cotton production. Another factor is that the world’s largest polyester producer, China, has polyester prices below 50 cents per pound. The NCC continues to insist that World Trade Organization discussions include a thorough and comprehensive examination of all policies affecting global fiber production and trade — including subsidies provided to synthetic fibers.
Increased awareness about synthetic fibers’ effects on the environment may help cotton’s position in the global marketplace. For example, a recent article in AlterNet cited multiple studies that found our food supply is being compromised because plastic microfibers shed from synthetic clothing when washed end up in waterways and are ingested by marine life.
In other efforts, Cotton Council International is showcasing U.S. cotton’s responsible production practices while carrying out global initiatives aimed at instilling a preference for U.S. cotton and cotton products at every point along the marketing chain. This is being bolstered by multiple NCC efforts to improve cotton quality and flow, among them our “Keep it Clean” initiative which is encouraging industry members to escalate seed cotton and lint contamination prevention. These efforts are critical for U.S. cotton to remain the world’s largest cotton exporter.
Who poses the most serious regulatory challenge?
We continue engaging EPA on numerous fronts, including the registration and re-registration of key crop protection products, and we hope the new Administration will be more focused on sound science in its rulemaking and decisions. Among recent encouraging developments were 1) labels granted for dicamba and 2,4-D over-the-top use on cotton for 2017 and 2) a favorable ruling on a lawsuit that would have brought stricter EPA regulation of treated seeds as proposed by some environmental groups and beekeepers. The NCC continues to oppose inequitable label restrictions on crop protection products.
Gary Adams is president/chief executive officer of the National Cotton Council of America. He and other NCC leaders contribute columns on this Cotton Farming magazine page.