WASHINGTON (DTN) -- It's been a long battle, but cotton farmers will finally get the opportunity to sign up cottonseed in an emergency disaster bill Congress is expected to pass before leaving town for the holidays.
House Republican leaders on Tuesday released a hurricane and wildfire disaster package that would also attempt to deal with problems in the cotton and dairy programs and cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but the bill's future was uncertain.
Republicans had indicated they would add the disaster package and several other measures to the continuing resolution, but Politico reported that the Republicans had abandoned plans to fund the Pentagon for the rest of the fiscal year and decided that the disaster bill would have to have a separate vote.
The prospects for other add-ons -- such as funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, veterans' health care, Obamacare cost-sharing subsidies, a renewal of the cyber surveillance tools and a tax bill waiver from statutory Pay-As-You-Go rules -- are also uncertain.
House Republican leaders hope to vote on any bills Thursday and leave Washington on the assumption that the Senate will accept their bill rather than return next week, Politico said.
Congress must pass a continuing resolution by Friday or the government will shut down.
According to a news release from the House Appropriations Committee, the disaster bill would spend $2.6 billion on specific agricultural disaster aid for crop and livestock disasters. The bill would spend another $541 million on watershed and flood prevention efforts, $400 million on emergency conservation efforts to mitigate future disaster risks, and $165 million for repairs and mitigation for rural water and waste disposal systems.
The provisions on pages 149 to 159 of the bill would declare "seed cotton" eligible for farm subsidies. The bill sets a reference price for seed cotton at 36.7 cents a pound. Cotton farmers would have a one-time opportunity to update the payment yield for upland cotton on the farm sometime early next year. Farmer would then choose to enroll the seed cotton into either the Agricultural Risk Coverage program or Price Loss Coverage program. Cottonseed acres for farm program payments would be either 80% of a farmer's current generic base acres or the average volume of cotton acres planted from 2009-12 crop years.
Farmers that enroll their cottonseed in ARC or PLC would not be eligible to enroll that acreage in the Stacked Income Protection Plan, or STAX.
The bill also would repeal the existing cap on dairy and all livestock insurance policies in the Federal Crop Insurance Act, and set up an interstate database, or system of databases, of SNAP information to be known as the National Accuracy Clearinghouse.
Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., criticized the bill for not doing enough for dairy and for cutting nutrition programs.
"While I'm encouraged that the House has recognized the need to support both dairy and cotton, this bill misses an important opportunity to repair the broken dairy safety net," Stabenow said.
"Expanding insurance options for dairy farmers is a good first step -- but there's more we can do to help our producers recover from tough economic times and lay the groundwork for further progress in the 2018 farm bill," Stabenow continued. "As the Senate completes its work on the disaster package, I will continue to support the Margin Protection Program improvements that Senators [Thad] Cochran, R-Miss., and [Patrick] Leahy [D-Vt.] made in the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill."
Cochran chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Leahy is the committee's ranking member. They have attempted to address the complaints from the cotton and dairy industries that the 2014 farm bill does not work for them.
"It is also unacceptable that the House decided to target our food safety net for families in exchange for much-needed improvements in the farm safety net. Pitting one part of the farm bill against another is the wrong way to get things done," Stabenow added.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said that both the cotton growers and dairy producers need fixes prior to the start of the next farm bill, but that NFU "remains opposed to farm programs being pitted against nutrition programs."
"The cotton and dairy industries both face major economic hardships. Both need financial assistance," Johnson said. "While NFU supports the cotton and dairy changes included in the bill, much more must be done. It is very disappointing that House appropriators provide significantly lower levels of assistance for dairy producers, who are struggling tremendously with low milk prices, market uncertainty, and a deeply flawed safety net program. We urge the Senate and House negotiators to find ways to provide more real, meaningful help."
"We should also avoid cuts to nutrition program infrastructure outside of the farm bill reform debate. Broad coalitions, over the course of the last year, have repeatedly stated that one farm bill program should not be an offset from the other. We stand by that sentiment," Johnson concluded.
A spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation said Tuesday evening the group had no comment because the measure is "still in a state of flux."
Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, which lobbies on nutrition issues, said in an email, "In a disaster relief bill whose much-needed provisions generally are not being paid for, it is unacceptable that the House decided to take money out of the nutrition programs to pay for a part of farm disaster relief. Over the course of the last year, nutrition, farm and conservation groups have repeatedly stood together to say that offsetting one farm bill program with cuts in another is unacceptable. FRAC stands by that position."
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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