As it did this past year, the National Cotton Council continues to confront challenges and seize opportunities with the aim of improving the U.S. cotton industry’s overall financial health.
Does that include farm bill passage?
Passage of an effective farm bill remains a top NCC priority. Throughout 2023, the NCC sought adequate funding for a farm bill that contains a strong producer safety net and other provisions to address the challenges faced by all segments of the industry (see my December column). Efforts included industry leaders meeting face-to-face with key Congressional leaders and testifying at Congressional farm bill hearings. NCC reinforced those actions by signing onto letters to lawmakers as a member of multiple agricultural coalitions.
The NCC also vigorously communicated with Congress on the need for adequate FY24 funding for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development. We also sought funding for boll weevil eradication and for USDA studies in such vital areas as fiber quality, production agronomic systems/pest management, sustainability, germplasm/genetic studies, textiles and for research at the three ginning laboratories. In addition, increases in Cotton Foundation membership and sponsorships this past year are helping to undergird cotton research and education. That support also helped the Foundation engage industry members in successful programs that help regulatory officials better understand the cotton industry.
What about that regulatory arena?
NCC continues coalescing with other interest groups and stakeholders in monitoring potentially adverse regulations and legislation that could affect cotton operations. On worker issues, for example, the NCC provided input on 1) EPA’s revision to its proposed rule on pesticide Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ) requirements that would extend beyond the farm’s boundaries, 2) the Department of Labor’s new H-2A State Adverse Effect Wage Rates rule that will affect rates throughout the farm sector, and 3) OSHA’s proposal to set a new national heat standard.
Efforts to preserve valuable plant protection products range from monitoring legal challenges to EPA registrations of dicamba/sulfoxaflor to weighing in on EPA proposals involving Waters of the U.S. and endangered species. Regarding the latter, the NCC provided input to EPA which later issued a BiOp that found Enlist was not likely to jeopardize any listed species — keeping this important herbicide available for 2024.
Any export boosting activities?
Cotton Council International (CCI) conducted a successful Cotton Belt tour for manufacturers from 15 countries that account for 92% of U.S. cotton export sales. CCI’s activities to keep U.S. cotton as the global marketplace’s preferred fiber are bolstered by the NCC’s ongoing effort at encouraging industry members to aim for zero contamination of seed cotton/lint — including urging their use of compliant module wrap products. U.S. cotton’s reputation also is benefiting from the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol program which enrolled 1.6 million acres in 2023 — a 25% increase over 2022’s enrolled planted acres. The sustainability program currently has more than 900 producer and 2,000 supplier members and 40 plus companies/brands, among them Ralph Lauren, Old Navy, Gap, Levi Strauss & Co., American Eagle Outfitters, and J.Crew.