Ag Policy Is Cloudy But Weather Has Not Been Rainy

Weather and lack of direction in agricultural policy makes waiting for a drought change and Washington guidelines on farm issues troublesome in Texas.

Published on: Nov 22, 2011

It's hard to say which is going to stretch on the longest—the historic drought in Texas and the Southwest, or the gridlock in Washington on farm policy. But put them together, and it's a double whammy to farmers.

Joe Outlaw, Texas A&M professor and AgriLife Extension economist, says he has never witnessed the stalemate like he's seeing on Capitol Hill in his long career, which has included crunching the numbers for many farm bills.

The Super Committee was given the job of coming up with $1.5 trillion in federal spending cuts or savings by Nov. 23—the day before Thanksgiving. But if unsuccessful in cutting a deal, sequestration (immediate cuts across the board) would kick in Dec. 23 just in time for Christmas.

COTTON CLOUT. The cotton industry is just one of several major commodity organizations calling on the U.S. House and Senate to develop a balanced and equitable new farm bill.
COTTON CLOUT. The cotton industry is just one of several major commodity organizations calling on the U.S. House and Senate to develop a balanced and equitable new farm bill.

Mary Kay Thatcher, American Farm Bureau director of public policy, says the House and Senate Agriculture Committee leadership sent a letter to the Super Committee on deficit reduction in regards to proposed farm bill budget cuts and a "rewrite" of farm programs, recommending a $23 billion cut in farm bill spending over the next decade. This is, of course, on top on the all the cuts U.S. agriculture already has taken.

Thatcher says the message had three major points.

"The first being that they are recommending $23 billion in cuts to programs in their jurisdiction," she notes. "The second one outlining the fact that whether it's commodities or nutrition or conservation or crop insurance, we've already taken a lot of hits in our budget in those programs the last four or five years—sort of a 'We-gave-at-the-office' reminder."

Thatcher says the third thing made clear is those committees would indeed write legislative proposals to have to the Super Committee in November.

Commodities Want Equity

Commodity groups are calling for the crafting of a farm bill that will be balanced and maintain equity among all of U.S. agriculture.

The groups represent cotton, rice, peanuts, and grain sorghum.

"The leadership of these commodity organizations is pleased with efforts by the Agriculture Committees to craft a responsible set of farm programs that maintains balance and ensures that deficit reduction is equitably shared across commodities and regions," says National Cotton Council Chairman Charles Parker, a Missouri cotton producer. "All of us in U.S. agriculture need to work together to achieve the best possible policy. Policy must be crafted to recognize differences in costs of production and avoid disproportionate impacts of a one-size-fits-all policy."

The commodity groups reiterated support for a farm policy structure that recognizes the clear and inherent differences in production practices among the major crops,. The groups urged the Senate and House Committees to establish a set of programs that will best serve all commodities.

While the commodity groups support policy that promotes market-oriented and flexible cropping decisions, they also urged the lawmakers to be mindful of the potential imbalance and disproportionate effects of payment limits.

Parker says the NCC leadership has been working hard to assist in the development of a farm bill that's balanced among all of agriculture, as well as fiscally responsible.

Texas rice producer Linda Raun, U.S. Rice Producers' Group chairman, says the rice industry appreciates the strong effort by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to develop sound, fiscally responsible farm policy that serves the needs of all farmers in all regions.

"We support the concept of a true producer option that recognizes the unique differences by crop and region, rather than forcing a one-size-fits-all approach," she says. "In developing a choice of policies for producers, there must be equity between the options so as to minimize any discrimination against certain crops or regions, and the equity should account for the current differences in crop insurance availability and impacts of payment limitations across different commodities."

Rice farmer Ray Stoesser says Congress needs to act with care to ensure that cuts to current safety net programs—and the design of any new program—treats all commodities and growing regions in the country equitably.

Terry Swanson, chairman of the National Sorghum Producers, Wash, Colo., says it is important to recognize unique differences between agricultural commodities.

"Producers must be able to choose a policy that allows them to effectively manage risk on their individual operation," Swanson says.

Can't change weather

One thing Washington lawmakers can't change is the weather.

Texas is enduring the worst stretch of drought in the state's history. That covers 116 years of weather records.

About 4 million acres of land in Texas has burned in the past year from a rash of wildfires, which also have destroyed multitudes of structures and more than 6,000 miles of fence.

To just add to the pain at monster dust storm some 8,000 feet high swept across the Texas High Plains and Lubbock on Oct. 17 and its red dirt darkened Lubbock and other towns during the day—so terrible the darkness triggered city night lights to come on during the day.

Many—even old-timers—said they had never witnessed a dust storm anywhere near that severe in their lifetimes. Others compared it to the 1950s and 1930s "Dust Bowl."

So producers who already have seen failed crops like cotton in 2011 are looking at 2012 hoping—but having to be a realist at the same time. The climatologists are not giving a very optimistic long-term forecast for next year. Indeed, some are saying this could be just the "beginning" of a drought that could last several years.

The plus side for cotton growers is China having bought more than a million bales of U.S. cotton during November. But it's going to take rainfall if Texas to grow cotton.

Wheat growers also desperately need moisture for the current winter wheat crop in Texas and the Southwest.

Historic dust storms in Texas and indecision/gridlock in Washington—times are tough going into the holiday season.