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Early Bill Would Help Cotton Farmers
The U.S. House Agriculture Committee recently released its proposed version for a new farm bill. Though far from final, this version could benefit some Georgia cotton farmers, says a University of Georgia expert.

"Overall, this version is a pretty generous bill right now," said Don Shurley, an Extension Service economist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The farm bill is dull stuff for most people, but for many in the state, it's important news. More than 2,000 cotton-related businesses provide about 33,000 jobs in Georgia.

Cotton contributes more than $3 billion a year to the state's economy. And Georgia farmers planted about 1.6 million acres of cotton this year.

The Benefits

Under the proposed farm bill, farmers can become eligible for more benefits, Shurley said.

For starters, they can update their base acreage (historically, the number of acres they plant). This acreage is used to calculate program benefits to farmers.

This is particularly good for some Georgia farmers. Base acreage was last updated using average acres planted for 1993, '94 and '95. Many Georgia farmers weren't growing as much cotton then as they are now. The current base acreage would be based on land planted from 1998-2001.

The Prices

Cotton is selling now for less than 40 cents a pound. This is well below the cost of growing the crop for Georgia farmers. The House version maintains some current provisions for cotton and allows growers to become eligible for new payments that counter low prices, Shurley said.

Overall, the proposed farm bill would cost about $193 billion over 10 years.

"Some spending may have to come down. Some changes may have to be made with the House version or any other version to comply with trade restrictions, too," Shurley said.

Time is crucial, he said, because the House version is set to begin with the 2002 crop.

The Process

A final farm bill still has to jump through the Washington hoops. The full House must act on the ag committee's proposal. Then the House version will go to the Senate.

The Senate may vote on the House version or decide to draft its own version. If this happens, both proposals will have to be compromised.

Once final legislation is approved, the president must then sign it, Shurley said.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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