More Candy for Cotton Farmers?

Greed, at least when it comes to the cotton industry and its lobbyists, isn’t taking a break this holiday season.  

Cotton farmers cut a sweet deal in the 2014 farm bill. In return for their very own income support program – the Stacked Income Protection Plan, or STAX – the growers agreed they wouldn’t dip into two other federal assistance programs ginned up to stabilize the incomes of growers of corn, wheat and other favored crops.

Together with a companion crop insurance policy, the STAX program guarantees cotton farmers up to 90 percent of expected revenue in an “area,” usually the farmer’s county. When a county’s farm revenues fall below the 90 percent level covered by a farmer’s STAX policy, the farmer receives a payment. For this income guarantee, taxpayers pay a whopping 80 percent of the premiums.

Yet last week the cotton industry began brazenly lobbying for an even sweeter arrangement. During a hearing of the House Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, representatives of the cotton farming industry proposed adding cottonseed, a byproduct of the cotton ginning process, to the list of crops eligible for support payments under the two federal programs in which the cotton growers had promised not to participate  -- the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs, both administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

If Congress gives cotton growers what they want, the taxpayers could be out $10 billion over 10 years through the Price Loss Coverage program alone. Cottonseed subsidy payments would amount to about $100 per acre, roughly triple the projected payments to corn, sorghum and wheat growers enrolled in the program.

Where would that $10 billion come from exactly? Cotton lobbyists propose cutting conservation programs that help farmers protect the environment. These programs are critical to reducing soil erosion, protecting wildlife habitat and preserving drinking water.

What’s more, the cotton growers want to strike the $250,000-a-year legal limit on farm income subsidies that come with the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs. If the payment limit for both programs were dropped, eligible cotton operations could collect windfalls.

Under the scenario envisioned by the cotton industry, payments to cotton farmers would grow while funding to the environment would shrink. This self-serving plan is what the cotton industry really wants for Christmas. Do you?

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