By Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Jodey Arrington (TX-19)
Cotton is deeply woven into the cultural and economic fabric of Texas. Despite seismic changes in the state’s economy from the first wildcatters in East Texas at the turn of the last century to a different kind of wildcatters who built the new Silicon Hills of Austin, cotton’s influence and importance has remained.
Texas has consistently led the nation in cotton production — the 5 million acres per year contribution of the Lone Star State is about one-half of the cotton produced by the nation as a whole. Each year, cotton is the leading cash crop in the state, generating $2.2 billion in crop value in 2016 alone. Cotton’s broader economic footprint in Texas has been estimated to be as high as $24 billion annually.
Despite the economic contributions that cotton brings, the industry has suffered from extreme weather and political whims. The most recent examples were the devastating drought that hit the plains of West Texas in 2011, and cotton’s lone exclusion from the Title 1 safety net in the 2014 Farm Bill. All of this in the face of unfair competitive advantages for countries like China who enjoy higher government subsidies and lower production costs. Cotton producers are ready for the next chapter.
The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, fellow Texan Mike Conaway, is deeply committed to finding workable and reliable policy solutions to ensure a viable cotton industry. We have pledged our support to helping him achieve this goal and enact a new Farm Bill before the current law expires. And we’ve already begun to work toward that end. In the February disaster spending package, a seed cotton provision was signed into law that ensures cotton producers have the same risk management tools for their crop as their neighbors who farm corn, grain sorghum, and wheat. Additionally, USDA rolled out ginning cost share assistance as a lifeline for cotton farmers as they transition back into the Farm Bill’s safety net and who, without this immediate relief, could be put out of business.
Fortunately, cotton farmers still have a voice in Washington. In the last several months, we have met with a number of producers who have shared their stories of the challenges of recent years and the optimism for a brighter future in farm country. These farmers, through a variety of national and Texas-based cotton groups, have been meeting with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to describe the crisis in cotton country and how we can improve farm policy moving forward. Homegrown food and fiber is a matter of national security, and while we see fields white with cotton each fall in and around the Lubbock area, the case for cotton needs to be brought to the attention of our urban and suburban counterparts in Congress.
As President Eisenhower once said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” Less than 2 percent of Americans grow the crops that feed and clothe our families. Unless we want to depend on foreign countries for our food and fiber needs, it is in our best economic and national security interest to support the hard-working men and women of agriculture.
While we cannot fully protect them from the volatility of the market or the vagaries of the weather, we owe it to our cotton farmers to make sure they have the tools they need to compete in the global marketplace and maintain this great agriculture industry. Together, we’ll work to ensure that in Texas, cotton remains king.