WASHINGTON, April 13, 2016 - Senate critics of farm programs are trying to head off an effort to use the appropriations process to provide new subsidies to cotton producers struggling to deal with depressed global prices.

Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan saying that the new payments may not be merited. 

The industry, with support from lawmakers representing cotton-growing regions, urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to make cottonseed eligible for the new Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage programs created by the 2014 farm bill. Vilsack declined to act, saying he lacks the legal authority do so

USDA has estimated the payments would average about $1 billion a year. 

Sources have told Agri-Pulse that some language benefiting cotton growers may be added to a fiscal 2017 appropriations bill for USDA. 

Flake and Shaheen said cotton producers already benefit from a “generous level of income supports, subsidies and crop insurance options.” 

The additional payments deserve “a full debate on topics of appropriateness, equity, trade compliance, implemented cost, and realistic offsets. It is unlikely that an appropriation strategy will yield the attention to this topic that taxpayers deserve,” the senators wrote. 

The senators went on to suggest that supporters of the industry proposal were being hypocritical since they oppose other attempts to change farm programs. “Proponents of federal farm subsidies often insist that any changes to them only take place within the confines of Farm Bill negotiations,” the letter said. 

Do you find the information on Agri-Pulse helpful? See even more ag and rural policy news when you sign up for a four-week free trial Agri-Pulse subscription.

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, argues that Congress left the door open to include cottonseed as an eligible oilseed under PLC and ARC programs. Under the 2014 farm bill, oilseeds not specified in the law receive a PLC price guarantee, or “reference price,” of $20.15 per hundredweight, which is well above recent market prices. 

Although Vilsack rejected the PLC/ARC coverage, the White House Office of Management and Budget is considering a separate proposal he has made to provide payments that would offset farmers’ ginning costs. 

Flake has been a frequent critic of crop insurance and biofuel mandates, while Shaheen has led attacks on the sugar program.