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The Farm Bill: Hurry Up And Wait

Jimmy WebbWell, it’s time for another Farm Bill to make its way through Congress. It sure would be nice to get it out early so we can see what we’ve got to work with.

Georgia producers didn’t want to change what we had because of the way generic base worked with peanuts. We were fortunate as we had a transition payment, but our friends in Texas had nothing. Cotton not being in the last bill was very tough on a lot of growers.

In April 2015, I wrote a “My Turn” column about the Farm Bill and stated that the generic base should keep cotton in the mix, and we might not have an over production of peanuts in Georgia. Boy, was I wrong!

The bill we are under now has been changed for this past year. Peanuts acres are back where they should be, and cotton acres are coming back as they should. Cotton is now eligible for the PLC/ARC programs and will help establish a baseline for the bill Congress is currently working on. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway was our champion to get cotton back in Title 1, and we owe him a big thank you!

The last bill was not good for cotton growers who had no crop to use in the generic base equation, and they really struggled. Bringing cotton back into Title 1 was a must and having it in this last year of the bill will help cotton get in the new bill Congress is working on.

Georgia producers stayed with cotton under the last bill to the extent a lot of us are invested in cotton gins. We cut back enough to lose a seat on Cotton Incorporated and the Cotton Board, but I see those acres coming back as peanut acres could be down in Georgia as much as 30 percent.

Growers like cotton in the mix because it is a good dryland crop where corn isn’t, and soybeans are not a good rotation for peanuts. Cotton works very well for producers in their rotation. These current prices will bring growers back, and cotton will again be king in Georgia.

Things are looking up for cotton as demand seems to be on an upward trend again, and prices are very good for growers. We don’t need prices to jump too high and start demand erosion like happened a few years back when it stimulated synthetics to be a bigger part of the mix, and we lost market share.

Growers have all worried about the world surplus — especially in China — but it has slowly been used. Now China will be in the market to import, but how much is the question. Cotton prices staying in the ’80s will work for growers, and mills can keep cotton in the mix, too. Growers need a customer to stay profitable. Cotton Incorporated has done a great job of working to get market share back, and we are starting to see results.

How long will cotton demand stay on an upward trend? How long will we have profitable prices? And how long will it take the world to oversupply cotton again? With world population growing and countries developing a middle class with more disposable income, it should be a good ride, but we will see. The cure for high prices is high prices! I just hope this is a long, slow ride that we can take advantage of for a few years.

We all wonder at times why it’s even called a “Farm Bill” as commodities are such a small part of the pie. Congress will pass something, and we hope it will be similar to what we are used to and works well for all rural America. Waiting on Congress is stressful, but it’s the game we play. One of the smartest men I know and admire always says,

“Tell me the rules, and I’ll figure out how to play.” I hope that Congress will deliver a good bill for everyone.
Meanwhile, please follow me on Twitter at jlw1963webb #watchthecottongrow. Here’s to a good Farm Bill and profitable years ahead.

— Jimmy Webb
Calhoun County, Georgia
jlw1963@bellsouth.net