cotton boll closeup in field

Upland cotton’s sad plight a wake-up call

USDA is doling out $300 million to support American Upland cotton producers. The agency is calling it “Cotton Ginning Cost Share.” I call it “hang in there survival payments.”

The lines to receive checks will short in California and Arizona where there is less than 200,000 acres of Upland cotton grown this season. The few remaining Far West Upland growers are eligible to receive $97.41 per acre, only enough to pay a year’s property taxes or maybe a defoliation or two. It’s really not enough to mess with the paperwork.

According to UC Davis, the cash cost to grow San Joaquin Valley cotton is $1,300 per acre.

Texas and Oklahoma growers will be eligible for $36.97 per acre. The payment rate for Mid-South farmers is $56.26 per unit, and Southeast producers will see $36.97 per acre.

According to an article in the Calcot market newsletter, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said, the creation of the program “shows USDA continues to stand with America’s cotton producers and our rural communities” by offering “meaningful, timely, and targeted assistance to cotton growers to help with their anticipated ginning costs and to facilitate marketing.”

The program is a sad testimony to the plight of American cotton. The U.S. once produced 16 million acres of cotton. This year it’s only 9.8 million acres, and that’s only because farmers in many areas have no alternative but cotton.

California once produced 1.6 million acres (all cotton), and Arizona 600,000 acres. Acreage today is now 170,000 acres combined.

Upland cotton paid for the farms in California and Arizona. It is sad to see its state now. Fortunately, California can produce premium, higher priced Pima cotton (155,000 acres this season), which is the only reason cotton remains an economically viable California crop.

As a world commodity, cotton can be produced for much less money in countries like China and India with cheap labor and heavy government subsidies.

Lawmakers and the public must understand that what has happened to cotton could happen to America’s food supply if consumers are not aware that support for American agriculture is vitally important to the security of this nation.

America cannot afford to relinquish its food supply to other nations as it has with cotton.

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