What are some major challenges?
■ In late January, the federal government was still shutdown and holding up such U.S. Department of Agriculture functions as direct and guaranteed loans for producers, marketing loans for cotton and other commodities, and sign-up for the Market Facilitation Program. The shutdown also halted the release of weekly cotton sales/shipments data and cotton prices as well as crop production and other significant reports.
Simultaneously, market prices remained under pressure due to a general slowdown in the world economy, currency issues in Turkey and the effects of China’s retaliatory tariffs. The NCC continued to communicate with USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative about the tariff situation, noting our trading relationship with China needed to be improved.
We pointed to late 2018 cancellations and destination changes for sales that originally were made to mills in China. Those Chinese textile customers had begun to purchase alternative growths from countries such as Brazil and Australia. Of concern is that if Chinese mills become accustomed to cotton from other countries, it will be even more difficult for the United States to regain that market share.
Any reasons for optimism?
■ Despite the challenging circumstances facing the industry, there are some reasons for optimism. Global demand for cotton is on the rebound. China must increase cotton imports to offset their internal deficit between production and consumption. Thus, tremendous potential exists for increased U.S. cotton exports to China — without the tariffs. In addition, the new farm law encourages USDA to work with our industry on cotton warehouse and shipping provisions to help ensure cotton’s timely flow to the marketplace. The farm law also provided our cotton producers with a new safety net through seed cotton’s continued eligibility for the ARC/PLC programs. Support to U.S. cotton textile manufacturers also is continued in the new law.
This year, we will see an increased focus on sustainability with the piloting of the new U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. The NCC just hired a sustainability director who will coordinate a protocol pilot program. The objective is to gather and use producers’ best management practices data to further U.S. cotton’s reputation in the global marketplace.
The NCC also will continue its successful efforts at ensuring our industry is a reliable supplier of contamination-free cotton. That includes ongoing education and research efforts to address this serious problem.
Hopefully, the government shutdown will have ended by the time this column appears. Another reason for optimism, but which also poses a challenge, will be the NCC’s ongoing effort to raise awareness among congressional members, particularly those recently elected, about agriculture’s importance to this nation’s economic health.
Whether it’s advocating for disaster assistance to mitigate losses from hurricanes and drought or seeing the 2018 farm law is implemented properly, the NCC will work to ensure U.S. cotton producers’ voice is heard in our nation’s capital.
Gary Adams is president/CEO of the National Cotton Council of America. He and other NCC leaders contribute columns on this Cotton Farming magazine page.