Ag Secretary Explains Cottonseed Oil Designation


Late last year Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack received a request from the cotton industry to designate cotton as an “other oilseed” in order to qualify for Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) payments.

Vilsack determined that such a designation is not authorized under the

2014 Farm Bill since the legislation expressly removed eligibility of cotton for such payments, as cotton is no longer listed as a “covered commodity.” Instead, at the request of the cotton industry, the Farm Bill created two new programs for cotton as an alternative to ARC and PLC: STAX, or the Stacked Income Protection Plan, and the one-time Cotton Transition Assistance Program.

But the Chairman of the House Ag Committee Mike Conaway from Texas countered the Secretary…

“Mr. Secretary, I wasn’t in those rooms with Chairman Lucas and Chairman Peterson, but I don’ think there was any reference to cotton seed, period.  During the farm bill negotiations…none.  So, to rely on something that didn’t happen I think you’ve been misled, and so I just don’t think that was the case, that cotton seed didn’t come up until these dire consequences arose, until it was shown that the STAX program…14% of cotton was covered by STAX, nowhere near what the estimate that folks thought it was going to be, it’s not working.

And so the cotton seed thing, by my references, came up late last year as a potential to put seed under the program, and not lint.  And I don’t think that you’re arguing that seed and lint are the same thing…they come from the same plant.  But, this idea that somehow there was a negotiation on seed specifically during the farm bill negotiations, I believe is incorrect.”

Vilsack stood his ground however pinning the problem back on Congress and the cotton industry…

“First of all in putting together the ARC and PLC programs, there was obviously a decision to remove cotton from those programs, I think everyone acknowledges that.

Within the law, essentially, there are provisions that define the opportunity for the Secretary to include additional oilseeds as crops as they evolve.  That listing of other oilseeds includes a variety of other oilseeds, it includes sunflower seeds, Canola seeds, rape seeds, clearly congress could have also included cotton seed in that list, they did not.  That’s an issue.

Secondly, the industry came to us when we were crafting the risk management program under STAX, and requested that oilseed, to be included in that risk management program.

So, those two FACTS; congress didn’t include it in the list, and the industry asked us to include it in the risk management program, indicate what the intent was at the time.”

So Conaway pressed the Secretary on USDA interpretation of the law…

“Are you arguing that the list of oilseeds is exclusive and you have no discretion?”

“No, what I’m arguing is; that list is and that provision is set up for oilseeds that arise during the course and between farm bills…”

“Where are you getting that interpretation?”

“Because that is the way that this provision has been interpreted and utilized, since it’s inception.”

“Okay, so it wasn’t new to the ’14 farm bill?”

“We have used this before…not seeds that have existed, Mr. Chairman, but seeds that have some up, in between farm bills to allow us the flexibility…”

“So, sunflower seeds are brand new…they didn’t exist before the ’08?  We gave you the discretion in order to use that discretion to look at new circumstances…”

“Not in particular circumstance.  You gave me the discretion if something crops up…”

“Something like cropping like an unexpected economic impact, that the ’14 bill didn’t do? That wouldn’t be unexpected?”

“No.  That’s why we have CCC, and that’s why it was unfortunate that puts the prohibition in the omnibus budget bill that restricts me from using CCC.  I’m more than happy to do that, remove the prohibition, and we can set up a program to help cotton farmers in the interim, and then you can revisit this issue specifically when you debate the next farm bill.”

“So, but for the restrictions for CCC that was done in 2011 in response for things the agency did in 2010, you could list cotton seed as an ‘other oil seed’?”

“Couldn’t list cotton seed, but we could create a program that could provide help and assistance in the interim.”

At the end of the day, Conaway thanked Vilsack for his service and commitment to farmers and ranchers and made a point to say that he never intended the Cottonseed proposal to be personal – that they just had a disagreement.  For more from this discussion see the story at SFNToday dot com.

A native of the Texas Panhandle, Rhonda was born and raised on a cotton farm where she saw cotton farming evolve from ditch irrigation to center pivot irrigation and harvest trailers to modules. After graduating from Texas Tech University, she got her start in radio with KGNC News Talk 710 in Amarillo, Texas.