Virginia cotton growers are optimistic that they can work with members of the Biden administration.
Reece Langley, president and CEO of the National Cotton Council of America, told participants in a virtual Virginia Cotton Growers Association meeting in February that many new Senate and House members hail from Cotton Belt states.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., is the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, and was a key player in getting cotton added to the safety net portion of the farm bill, Langley said. “He’s been a real champion of ours.”
Also in the favor of cotton growers in Virginia and across the U.S. is that the chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., “is a strong friend of the cotton industry.” And the House committee’s ranking member, Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., has spent time visiting cotton farms and “taken an interest in learning about” cotton farming, Langley shared. “I think we can work closely with both of them.”
Foremost on both the Senate and House agriculture committees’ agendas are climate policies, racial equity and the farm bill. The Senate committee is considering the Climate Solutions Act, which establishes renewable energy standards and greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.
Another top priority for the House agriculture committee is an agricultural disaster fund the U.S. Department of Agriculture could tap into when a natural disaster causes crop losses. Currently, there is sometimes a delay of a year or more between when losses happen and farmers are able to get help from USDA.
“This fund would provide assistance in a much more timely manner,” Langley said.
Cotton farmers also are pleased with the recent confirmation of Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture. “He has a history of working with the cotton industry, and he appreciates mainstream, production agriculture,” Langley noted.
The current policy focus of the USDA is on climate policies, which include incentive programs to pay farmers for voluntary, climate-smart practices, he explained.
“Virginia farmers are always in favor of voluntary practices that are beneficial to the environment,” said Wilmer Stoneman, vice president of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “We are hopeful that the new administration will continue supporting regulations that are not harmful to farmers.”
Langley said the news out of Washington is not all positive for cotton farmers, however. Under the Environmental Protection Agency, the Waters of the U.S. rule that the former administration had rolled back to “navigable water protection that’s more farmer-friendly” is under review.
The EPA also is considering pesticides that are up for re-registration. “A number of them are key for cotton production,” Langley shared. And air quality and the Endangered Species Act are two issues “we’ll have real challenges with.”