Fleming, president of Southern Cotton Growers, and Bearden, vice president of Plains Cotton Growers Association, represented the National Cotton Council, which is part of a coalition of 36 farm organizations that have joined together to seek legislation for financial assistance to cover losses due to weather-related disasters in 2001 and 2002.
The coalition says the assistance for farmers, like that provided to home and business owners who suffered financial losses due to natural disaster, must come from emergency funds not from farm program cuts, which the Bush administration continues to insist on.
During their visit to Washington coalition members met key members of Congress and the Administration. They stressed that any disaster assistance legislation should:
- be all-inclusive;
- cover production and quality losses for field crops, specialty crops and livestock; and
- address all natural disasters - including drought, flood and excessive rain, insect infestation, frost and freeze damage.
Fleming, Bearden and other members of the group asked that the assistance cover losses for both 2001 and 2002 production years because producers suffering disaster losses both years are the most economically fragile and financial assistance provided to farmers ultimately benefits rural communities, businesses, schools and churches.
They also asked that long-term programs authorized in the new farm bill not be cut because it is those programs are intended to address other priorities such as providing a safety-net for low prices – a feature absent from the 1996 farm law – enhanced conservation programs, environmental protection, nutrition programs and rural development.
In addition, the coalition pointed out that existing crop insurance and commodity disaster programs are inadequate to meet needs. While the Secretary has utilized virtually all her discretionary authority to provide some targeted assistance, more than 83 percent of the counties in the U.S. have received disaster assistance declarations, affecting all segments of production agriculture, including program and specialty crops as well as livestock.
According to USDA, net farm income is expected to decline by 22 percent from 2001 levels.
For cotton in 2002, adverse weather conditions cut projected production by more than 1 million bales. Drought conditions harmed the growing season, and a series of storms hit during harvest, inflicting continued quality and quantity losses on fiber and seed.
In the Southeast and Mid-South, only 55 percent of the crop achieved a color grade of Strict Low Middling or better. This compares to a five-year average of 81 percent.