Delta Council official sees problems in proposed farm bill

Published 7:34 pm Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Delta Council President Tommy Gary says successful cotton farmers would be hit hard under proposed new standards for subsidies in the proposed 2007 farm bill.

The Bush administration unveiled the bill last month. Among other things, the plan would trim loan rates for farmers and place more restrictive limitations on eligibility than existing farm programs.

The bill is likely to change as it goes through Congress. As currently written, it would eliminate commodity program subsidies to farmers who have an adjusted gross income of $200,000 or higher. That is down from the present farm bill’s $2.5 million cap.

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“That is going to affect a lot of diversified business people. It’s going to penalize them,” said Gary, himself a Leflore County cotton farmer.

He said cotton costs considerably more to grow and harvest than corn or soybeans.

The U.S. produces 22 million bales of cotton annually but, in large part because of cheap imported cotton, only 4.5 million bales are used annually, he said.

“Less than 10 years ago, we were utilizing 10 million bales,” Gary said.

He said that this year, about 11 million surplus bales of cotton remain in storage.

“We compete with countries that heavily subsidize their agriculture. We can’t survive” without government price supports, Gary said.

“It’s not a good time to be writing a farm bill for cotton,” he said.

There are also several good proposals in the farm bill, he said, including “recognizing the need to continue farm income protection, world price competitiveness through marketing loans and marketing certificates, which are crucial to exporting our products.”

Gary said Mississippi’s congressional delegation is aware of problems in the bill and “I would be surprised if this were not changed.”

In November, the day after Democrats won majorities in the House and the Senate, Gary was part of a delegation in the White House meeting with members of the president’s agriculture staff.

“We had an idea of what would be in it, but we did not have all the details,” he said.

Although the farm bill is likely to be completed by Congress in September, that’s not certain, Gary said. “It’s very likely, if the bill is not finished by then, Congress could extend the current farm program for at least one more year.”