DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom broke news Wednesday morning that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said USDA lawyers have told him he doesn't have authority to declare cottonseed as an oilseed.
USDA wants to help, Vilsack said, but "right now we are a bit stymied by the barriers." Further, Vilsack said Congress would need to find roughly $1 billion over 10 years to fund a subsidy related to declaring cottonseed as an oilseed.
Industry groups, ag bankers and other have been lobbying aggressively since last fall for the designation. The National Cotton Council issued a statement Wednesday noting that the group is extremely disappointed in Vilsack's comments. The group believes Vilsack does have such authority.
"We continue to believe, like a broad group of members of Congress, that USDA clearly has this authority as described in the current farm bill. Our industry remains committed to pursuing a cottonseed designation and policy to help provide long-term stability to the industry," the National Cotton Council stated.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, might find himself having to take some committee action to prop up support for cotton growers if Vilsack declines to act. Conaway issued a statement pointing out that more than 100 members of Congress had written Vilsack asking him to exercise the authority.
"Time and again the Secretary has used the tools made available to him under the law to respond to a crisis in agriculture. The current economic situation for cotton farmers is dire and it warrants the same urgent and meaningful action by the Department," Conaway stated.
Conaway added, "The Department has not only the legal authority to designate cottonseed as an 'other oilseed,' but the responsibility to act, and I trust that the Secretary is sensitive to the situation and shares my commitment and the commitment of so many others that this matter must be meaningfully responded to in a timely way."
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The 2014 farm bill spells out every kind of authority the Agriculture Secretary shall do, shall submit, shall establish, shall fund and shall prioritize. It also clearly spells out what the secretary shall not do.
I'm no attorney. Quoting many others before me, "I don't know a habeas from a corpus." But I do know how to search mind-numbing federal language. Vilsack asked reporters at the American Farm Bureau Federation last month if any of us ever read the Federal Register. Embarrassingly, I was the only guy who raised my hand.
So I opened my copy of the Agricultural Act of 2014 and searched "oilseed." From my non-legal background, all I can tell you is that there are multiple provisions highlighting the secretary's potential to designate other oilseeds for farm programs.
Dealing with how to handle an adjustment of generic base acres, section 1112 includes the following: "The Secretary shall provide for an adjustment, as appropriate, in the base acres for covered commodities for a farm and any generic base acres for a farm whenever any of the following circumstances occur:
(C) The producer has eligible oilseed acreage as a result of the Secretary designating additional oilseeds, which shall be determined in the same manner as eligible oilseed acreage under section 1101 (a) (1) (D) of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. 8711(a) (1) (D))."
That section reference to the 2008 farm bill goes back to reference the same exact language in the 2002 farm bill, which basically cites how base acres for oilseed shall be calculated to ensure that the acreage for all oilseeds does not exceed the acreage for the total covered commodities on the farm.
Another provision in section 1112 of the 2014 law also states further states how to handle base acre changes in the case of a secretarial designation. Section 1112 (2) states "For the purposes of paragraph (1), the Secretary shall include the following:
(C) If the Secretary designates additional oilseeds, any eligible oilseed acreage, which shall be determined in the same manner as eligible oilseed acreage under subsection (b) (10 (C).
Section 1113, regarding payment yields includes (a) ESTABLISHMENT AND PURPOSE. -- For the purpose of making price loss coverage payments under section 1116, the Secretary shall provide for the establishment of a yield for each farm for any designated oilseed for which a payment yield has not been established under section 1102 for the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008.
Section 1202 LOAN RATES AND NONRECOURSE MARKETING LOANS also includes the loan rates for crops, including a list of other oilseeds under paragraphs (a) (11). That includes sentence (I) "Other oilseeds designated by the Secretary."
Call me an internet lawyer, but I think Conaway and the cotton industry might have a case on this one.
Text of the Agricultural Act of 2014: https://www.gpo.gov/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com.
Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN.
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