In the wee hours of February 9, 2018, both houses of congress passed the Bi-Partisan Budget Agreement of 2018, which the President signed later that morning. Within this legislation, a safety net program for seed cotton, the unginned cotton that producers harvest, was established. This makes cotton a covered commodity under Title 1 of the Farm Bill, of which cotton had been left out in 2014.
In 2017, cotton was planted on over 12 million acres of land in the U.S., making it the 4th most widely planted row crop in the nation behind soybeans, corn, and wheat. In Georgia, cotton was planted on 1.27 million acres in 91 counties across the state. This production brings in roughly $1 billion into Georgia’s economy and supports 15,000 direct jobs. Cotton, along with yarn, is exported through the Port of Savannah. Cotton is one of the crown jewels of American agriculture, as well as here in Georgia, and supports a wide number of jobs in states beyond the cotton belt in a variety of segments.
Under the original 2014 Farm Bill, existing cotton base became “generic base”, a last minute addition to the bill to give cotton base value rather than leaving producers completely out. This allowed producers to plant those base acres with another covered commodity and get safety net protections for their operations. While agriculture was glad to have that protection, cotton, as one of the leading row crops in the U.S., needed protections from an extremely depressed market. Cotton producers made their case to congressional leaders for quite some time before this passed, including multiple cotton provisions failing on the house floor. Inclusion of cotton at this time leads to cotton having a seat at the table as the negotiations for the next Farm Bill begin in earnest.
President Trump’s signature makes cotton producers eligible for Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs. Cottonseed prices will be averaged with cotton prices to develop the seed cotton price for this program. Generic base will be converted one of two ways: one, the greater of 80% of generic base into seed cotton or average acres planted of cotton from 2009-2012; two, 100% of generic base transferred into seed cotton and other bases of commodities planted from 2009-2012. Research done by University of Georgia economists Dr. Don Shurley and Dr. Adam Rabinowitz shows that farmers would have been paid in six of the last ten years had this program been the law of the land. In 2017, current estimates show a roughly $25/acre payment. This will significantly help farmers keep their businesses sustainable while commodity prices are so low, and most importantly put cotton back on par with other commodities.
In conclusion, this program will be good for Georgia’s farmers and good for agriculture as a whole. This will lead to greater economic health on the farm and will provide support to the large cotton infrastructure here in Georgia during price troughs like we are currently in. Furthermore, this action will better protect the existing commodity programs for other commodities that give Georgia’s farmers a safety net. Protection of Georgia’s number one row crop will be extremely helpful to rural communities when markets create times of stress.