ORLANDO, Fla., Jan 10, 2016 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the American Farm Bureau Federation that it may take congressional action to provide cotton growers the new subsidies they are seeking. 

Cotton producers and their supporters in Congress have been calling on Vilsack to allow cottonseed to be considered an oilseed for purposes of the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs. Vilsack said people at USDA “want to help” cotton producers in the midst of a struggling downturn in their industry, but added that there are some “serious legal issues” that might stand in the way.

“It may take a partnership between us and Congress to get the kind of help that is really important and really sufficient, but we’re going to do everything we can,” Vilsack told an assembled group of Farm Bureau members at their annual convention.

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, argues that USDA already has the legal authority to provide PLC and ARC coverage for cottonseed. But Vilsack said USDA may ask Congress for help around “statutory limitations.” 

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Vilsack also is wary of a potential challenge to the subsidies in light of the case that Brazil previously won at the World Trade Organization. 

“We do not necessarily want to precipitate a critical review of our farm bill on the trade and international side because that could create serious problems,” Vilsack said. “It’s a complicated set of issues that we have to work through, that we have to think about.”

Vilsack reiterated that he expected to make a decision “very soon.”

On other topics:

  • Vilsack will communicate with leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees about the “context and tenor” of a meeting he organized this week to try to resolve the dispute over biotech labeling. A source told Agri-Pulse that the meeting will be Wednesday. Industry representatives are expected to attend the meeting along with some proponents of labeling.
  • Vilsack expressed interest in opening a USDA office in Cuba, but said that was dependent on two things: a congressional lift of the trade embargo (which he said was unlikely in the current Congress) and sufficient office space in the communist country. He said USDA would have to work with the State Department on the issue.
  • Vilsack defended the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program when concerns were raised that the benefits could be used to buy sugary treats or beverages. Vilsack cited a study indicating that SNAP recipients might buy Diet Mountain Dew as an alternative caffeine source to coffee. He also said the sugary products could include a cupcake to reward the child of a SNAP recipient for good grades.


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