BIG COUNTRY, Texas (BIGCOUNTRYHOMEPAGE) – On this week’s edition of Big Country Politics, Lauren Decker, executive vice president of Rolling Plains Cotton Growers Inc. from Stamford, Texas, discussed the challenges faced by cotton farmers, including government support, weather, and concerns about the Farm Bill.

Rolling Plains Cotton Growers was founded in 1964 to amplify the voices of cotton producers. Charles Stenholm, a former congressman, served as its first executive vice president.

“A group of cotton producers in the 60s decided that they wanted to amplify their voice. And so they decided to do that. They needed to work together. And so they formed an organization. They hired Charlie to be their first executive director. And then they started kind of rolling from there,” Decker shared. “Our job is to be the voice of cotton producers and landowners across 31 counties in the rolling plains.”

The organization’s jurisdiction spans from north of Childress to Wichita Falls and extends southward to I-20, including Mitchell County.

“We interact with the cotton gins there and the grower leadership in each of those counties. And we answer their questions. And if we don’t have the answers, then we find them. And so our job, my job is to have relationships with members and their staff in Washington, DC, some members and their staff and Austin and kind of relay, you know, what information needs to be sent to the cotton growers that’s relevant to their interests,” Decker explained.

She shared that cotton farmers have had some challenges recently.

“Mother Nature has been a challenging partner in growing cotton the past couple of years. Last year, it was a historic drought; everyone is well aware of that. Consequently, we didn’t have a lot of our guys do a cotton and wheat rotation. A lot of them didn’t have any wheat to harvest. So it was very dry,” Decker explained. “When they started planting. Some guys got some cotton up, some guys got a little cotton up some got no cotton up. And so it was in parts of the region, there was a complete loss of cotton acres, and in some parts, it came up, but then it never had enough energy to make bowls and make cotton. And so it was very spotty across the region. We had historic lows in terms of what was ginned.”

She mentioned that last year, they anticipated a good season due to spring rain and favorable planting conditions. However, winds and storms brought forth additional challenges.

“We’ve got some of our growers in Fisher County and Mitchell County that had that wind come through on the backside of that Matador tornado just sheared off their cotton. So you had some hail storms that kind of took out some cotton,” Decker said. “This year, we’re going to make more than last year, but we’ve still had record-high hot temperatures in the summertime. And so it’s still yet to be known of our crop, how much we’re actually going to get to bring in… it’s been really hard to have two years back to back where it’s really tough on them and their families. And then the rural communities that are supported by cotton production.”

Decker shared that many farmers are having growing concerns about the weather patterns.

“There has been talk about the weather systems and how they have changed and whether it’s a once in a decade system, you know, 2011 2022, you know, it is that going to be the pattern? And we don’t know, like, are we going to go back to normal? What is normal? You know, I think that in the context of, it’s great to have rain in the fall and winter. But we need to have some rain in the summer for cotton crops,” Decker said. “They’ve really improved the varieties on drought tolerance. But if we don’t have some rain in the summer, it’s going to be impossible to make a crop.”

As the current Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, concerns have arisen regarding potential delays in the next farm bill. Some have attributed these delays to the government’s debt ceiling.

“So when the debt ceiling was negotiated this spring, it took a lot of oxygen out of the room that delayed the appropriations process that got started this spring. They wanted to fully fund the government through the appropriations process, which is each bill going through one at a time and then going to the House floor. Well, they ran out of time on that,” Decker explained. “So now what they need to do is approve an omnibus appropriations bill, which is one of the challenges that the Republicans have had over the past decade is they’re tired of not being able to really do meaningful cuts to spending because they’re doing these omnibus appropriations bills and not single bills at a time.”

She added that with the threat of a possible government shutdown on September 30, uncertainty is becoming more prevalent.

“That happens to be the same time that the Farm Bill expires. And so where does that meet in the crosshairs of the Farm Bill expiring, the government shutting down? How does this all work out? I think that they will come up with at least some sort of funding deal now. Do they shut down the government for a short period of time as they’re working this out? Is it a long-term government shutdown? I don’t think anybody knows,” Decker expressed.

During this uncertain time, farmers can take some relief in knowing that certain items on the farm do not expire.

“I think that there are certain statutes within the farm bill that do not expire. One of those is the crop insurance program, which is very important to our producers. The second of those is the food stamps and nutrition programs. So those don’t expire. Those are appropriated every year. And so, really, there’s only a handful of programs that would technically expire. And so they may come up with some sort of short-term extension for those in with this omnibus appropriations bill and pass that all at once. And so that’s kind of what we’re expecting right now.”

Decker said producers are looking for two major things in the next farm bill.

“One is the protection of crop insurance. Like I said, it’s very important to our producers. They use it as their primary safety net; it is a public-private partnership with the government. The government invests in crop insurance, and then private companies sell the crop insurance to our producers. Most producers buy 70 to 75% coverage on their crops. So even if there’s a complete loss, they still only make 70 to 75% back from their crop insurance company. So that’s a very important component of the Farm Bill,” Decker said.

She is also advocating for an increase in compensation to account for inflation.

“And the second thing is, within the first title of the Farm Bill, you have commodity programs, and one of those is the Price Loss Coverage Option. That is what most of our producers in this part of the world do. We’d like those reference prices to be either indexed for inflation or raised because the cost of production has just skyrocketed over the past few years, actually the past decade. And so because of those prices going up, we’d like to be compensated,” Decker shared.

An op-ed from Chris Edwards, an opinion contributor for our sister platform to, argues that while farming is a risky business, farmers should not rely on government subsidies. While Decker said farmers would love to take less from the government, that is not feasible at the moment.

“I think, at the very base that, and I’m going to quote my former boss, Jodey Arrington, and say that farming and agriculture production is a national security issue, we need to be able to feed and clothe the American people with products that we grow here at home, I think that’s an issue of vital importance,” Decker shared. “Second, I think that US farmers would love to take less from the government, but between unfair trade practices that our competitors throw at us, between weather conditions that we have no control over, all of those things lend us to need more help, than we than we’d like to admit, you know, we’d love to be able to make a great crop every year and sell it at a fair price and export it and have no challenges.”

She mentioned that besides climate and conflict, rapid government change can negatively affect farmers.

“We’d love to be in a situation where we didn’t have to do this, as much as you know, rely on the government and the whims of the government because it changes every two years. There’s new members of Congress that we have to educate on what cotton means to this region. There are new senators, and there’s new presidents, and all of those mean different officials that we have to work with. And so there’s a constant turnover and constant learning curve that we’re having to educate folks on what U.S. farmers need. And so, in an ideal world, we could make a great crop and sell it at a fair price. But that’s not the current global market that we operate in,” Decker shared.

She stressed the importance of partners such as Jody Arrington, Ronnie Jackson and Auguste Pflueger.

“They represent the majority of the cotton, actually, in the whole United States. And so between, you know, we work with them and their staff to make sure that we have a good policy that protects our farmers and ranchers. And so we’re going to keep doing that,” Decker said.