WASHINGTON, July 31, 2017 – The eight members of the House Agriculture Committee who traveled to San Angelo, Texas, for the panel’s second farm bill listening session heard from a wide variety of farmers Monday, but it was the cotton producers who dominated the event with pleas for more assistance.

“This is going to be my fourth year that I’m praying I can break even,” Dan Smith, a Texas cotton farmer told lawmakers with a shaky voice. “Our backs are to the wall.”

Farmers painted a dim picture over the three-hour event, describing season after season of rock-bottom prices that are forcing many to go out of business because they’re unable to get new operating loans and unable to pay off last season’s debt.

Younger farmers have it worst, said Tony Dill, who plants 2,800 acres of cotton and 600 acres of peanuts near Brownfield, Texas. Dill told the lawmakers that he knows five young farmers who have gone out of business over the past three years, trying to make a living from cotton and peanuts.

“A lot of us (older farmers) are living off of equity,” he said. “The younger farmers have no equity. I see no future in our country if we don’t help our young farmers.”

Cotton subsidies were mostly removed from the farm bill in 2014 – a consequence of a successful World Trade Organization challenge from Brazil. They were replaced with the

Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX), which is essentially a crop insurance program. 

“Agriculture is the lifeblood of Texas, and the stories we heard from farmers and ranchers today strike at the heart of why we have a farm bill,” House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway said in a statement released after the listening session, which was held in his home district, the 11th of Texas.

“The farm bill underpins the entire rural economy – an economy that has been under tremendous strain over the past four years,” Conaway said. “Improving economic conditions in farm country is instrumental in ensuring that Americans continue to enjoy the safest, most abundant and most affordable food and fiber supply in the world. I appreciated hearing from Texas farmers and ranchers today, and I am eager to take their input back to Washington as we continue crafting the next farm bill.”  

STAX has been widely criticized as not doing nearly enough for farmers struggling with record-low prices, drought and rising debt.

Still, all the news hasn’t been bad recently for cotton farmers. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a 2018 spending bill for USDA that would make cottonseed eligible for the popular Price Loss Coverage subsidy program.

The provision is expected to pay out about $500 million to farmers over 10 years, beginning in 2018, but Conaway said last week that the provision did not go far enough to help struggling cotton farmers.

“We have been working on a long-term solution for cotton in the House for over two years,” Conaway said. “While I’m grateful that (Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran) is trying to resurrect a solution in the Senate, the support levels they have proposed are far short of what’s needed to stop the bleeding in the cotton industry. I look forward to working with Sen. Cochran as we continue looking at all options to provide long-term, meaningful assistance to the cotton industry.”

(Phil Brasher contributed to this story)

(Correction: The earlier story misspelled the name of Brownfield, Texas, farmer Tony Dill.)