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farm bill

A Passion for People, Policy and Cotton

Whether he is walking the halls of Capitol Hill advocating for the southern plains cotton industry or driving a tractor through the red dirt of Crosby County, Texas, Steve Verett has left his footprint on the agriculture industry.

Originally from Crosby County, Texas, Steve Verett, chief executive officer of Plains Cotton Growers Inc., has spent his entire life in agriculture.

“It’s the greatest job in the world for a guy like me that I get to work for an industry that I care about greatly,” Verett said.

Although farming was not his long-term goal after graduating from Texas Tech University with a degree in accounting, Verett returned home to the family farm where he worked with his brother, Eddie.

“Over the years, my brother and I have had excellent working and personal relationships,” Verett said. “We complemented each other very well and it enabled me to do a lot of things outside of the farm.”

“It’s the greatest job in the world for a guy like me that I get to work for an industry that I care about greatly.”

Steve Verett

While he loves working closely with his brother, Verett said he knew if he was ever going to make a move away from the farm to something like policy, his involvement within other organizations would matter greatly. In 1993, Verett was given an opportunity to work for Texas Food and Fibers Commission, a state agency that conducts agricultural research contracted for research with four different universities in the state, Texas Tech being one of them. 

While growing a passion for policy working with the Texas Food and Fibers Commission, Verett said this opportunity has continued to contribute to his career today.

“I really got a completely different perspective that has served me well since then,” Verett said.

After being offered his current position as CEO, Verett has been leading PCG since 1997. PCG is a non-profit producer organization composed of cotton producers in the Texas High Plains. The organization focuses on legislation, research, promotion and service to assist the needs of their members, volunteers and producers.

“Now, you know, the fact of the matter is that while we may come up with some ideas and we may work on some things, it’s our volunteers that are the heart of this organization and that’s what makes us what we are today,” Verett said.

Verett said their staff is guided by their volunteers, and it is just the organization’s job to carry out the volunteers’ goals. While PCG only represents cotton growers in the 42 counties surrounding Lubbock, Verett and other staff members work with producers and legislators all over the country represent cotton farmers in Austin, Texas, and Washington D.C.

Barry Evans, a cotton farmer from Kress, Texas, and former president of PCG has worked with Verett for many years.

“Steve is incredible,” Evans said. “He is the go to guy for anything to do with cotton in West Texas and anywhere in the country.”

Verett’s role as CEO varies, but his most important job is contributing to agricultural legislation. Verett has had the opportunity to work on all farm bills since 1997, experiencing many highs and lows for the cotton industry.

Photo of Steve Verett talking with Ted Cruz
In 2016, Ted Cruz visited the Hub City to meet with Mr. Verett and other leaders in the agriculture industry. Photo courtesy of Plains Cotton Growers.

“Well, you know, [farm bills] are all unique and some have certainly been disappointments,” Verett said. “Some we’ve been elated about.”

The first farm bill Verett worked on as a professional with PCG was the milestone 2002 Farm Bill.  During this time, all of agriculture was coming off tough times with disaster and disaster programs, but with surplus dollars in the government, they were able to make some improvements within crop insurance and Title One programs critical to the area.

With the next farm bill taking place in 2008, Verett said this one was a status quo bill. With pressure coming from all sides, he considers it to be a victory nowadays. His experience with the 2014 Farm Bill varied greatly.

“Farm bill ‘14 was a very tired and disappointing farm bill from a cotton perspective,” Verett said. “As it turned out, we were lucky probably to maintain what we did.”

Cotton was removed from Title One for the first time in the history of farm programs in the 2014 Farm Bill, creating frustration for cotton farmers within the Texas High Plains and nationwide.

“The cotton industry decided that, in order to clear the decks, we had to do something completely different to clear this case up,” Verett said.

While working hard to help cotton farmers in the High Plains during this trying time, the Stacked Income Protection Program was implemented. While it was able to help cotton farmers, Verett said it was never going to be able to take the place of the price support program they had to give up.

“The ‘14 Farm Bill was really a low point for cotton from the standpoint that we weren’t like the rest of the commodities,” Verett said.  “But you know, it was kind of one of those deals, you think that you got to make lemonade out of lemons and that’s what the industry did, and the leadership of the House Ag Committee helped us do.”

Verett said there were many attempts made to try to get cotton back into the farm bill. It was finally taken care of in February of 2018 when the Balanced Budget Act was passed to take cotton back into the bill as seed cotton rather than just lint, even before the farm bill was being discussed for the new authorization.

“So, it was a joyous day, when that was finally accomplished,” Verett said. “I shudder to think, where we would be today if we didn’t have that in place. It is absolutely critical at this point.”

Verett continues to fight the good fight, putting cotton farmers first. He said he attributes the success of the organization to those he surrounds himself with.

“I’m really not all that smart,” Verett said. “But I recognize talented people I think, and I’ve surrounded myself with talented people that have that fire in the belly for this industry.”

Farm Bill Specialists at Ag Specialist

Pivot, sunset


he phone rang on her desk. Her cell phone buzzed to life every couple of minutes. Even at eight in the morning, when business hours opened, Kathy Brorman of Ag Specialist Insurance Agency was bombarded with questions.

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, more commonly known as the 2018 Farm Bill, had just been signed into law. Most of the country was focused on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program’s future; the dispute ended up being tabled. However, most farmers just wanted to know what was going to happen next year. It was business as usual for Kathy as she looked through the binders and spreadsheets that held most of her answers. The farmers she met daily all had similar questions.

“Can I grow hemp?” Kathy said was the new question of the month.

Under the new farm bill, hemp, the fibrous tissues of the cannabis plant, is insurable. The short answer to this now common question was ‘yes.’ However, only if the farmer wanted to get a permit from the state and be subject to regular inspections. The enforcement of which, as of March 2019, has yet to be determined by the Texas Legislature.

The 2018 Farm Bill passed on Dec. 12, 2018, and the bill itself has over 1,000 pages and something that affects every farmer in the United States. A document this large requires supplemental resources to help sort through the information and make it more understandable for farmers and others in the agriculture industry.

“It’s very overwhelming until someone can break it down for you,” Kathy said of the language and volume of paperwork and regulations farmers have to work within.

Farmers want to farm, and Kathy’s research and information let her help farmers do that.

She gets much of her information from the carriers she works with as well as commodity groups, including National Sorghum Producers. Kathy serves on the U.S. Grains Council and previously served on the United Sorghum Checkoff Program’s board of directors. Her service took her to Central and South America to help promote American grain.

“It has to be federal,” Kathy said about the bill.

To her, the size and scope of American agriculture are too large for each state to have its own farm policy. For example, the amount of sorghum grown in Kansas would affect the price in Texas and vice versa.

The 2018 Farm Bill was passed in 2018, just before its predecessor was set to expire. The 2014 bill was years late, and commodity prices had to be set retroactively from 2012. This farm bill has yet to set the base for commodity prices. That being said, Kathy and others like this farm bill. Farmers have more control over their coverage options from the last bill.

“It’s very overwhelming until someone can break it down for you.”

“Used to, you were stuck with your decision of coverage for the entire term of the last Farm Bill,” said Kaeli Hales, Ag Specialist’s other owner and agent that studies the Farm Bill.

“Being stuck” is referring to the former Farm Bill from 2014 which didn’t allow farmers to make their choice every year whether to have Price Loss or Area Risk coverages for their farms. They had to make their choice and could not change it year-to-year, and that coverage continued even if a farm changed hands. The new Farm Bill allows farmers to choose for 2018 through 2020 (the first two years) and every year after until 2023 when a few Farm Bill will be created.

Even though the 2018 Farm Bill passed, the government shut down two weeks later, and it wouldn’t open back up for another month. This meant that the Farm Service Agency offices were all closed. Kathy and the Ag Specialist team worked through the shutdown helping their farm customers with their FSA paperwork as though the government was about to open back up soon. The FSA had to hire temporary office staffers to help farmers file their annual reports in time.

cattle, product
Farmers depend on their crops and livestock for their livelihood, so they need to insure these for that purpose.

The government opened back up soon, and more questions would come over the phone. Many were about when reference prices for 2018 are going to be announced. Those would not be released until the end of the current crop year. For example, if the sorghum crop year starts Sept. 1, 2018, then the 2018 reference prices will be released after considering the yields harvested between then and Aug. 31, 2019, for each respective county.

“Everything runs a year behind in that way,” Kathy said.

“We’re farmers,” Kathy said. “And I needed to learn this stuff so we’d know what to do on our farm.”

Before she started this service for her farm customers, Kathy would read the fact sheets and reports to learn the best course of action is for her family’s farm.

“I decided to incorporate this into an additional service,” Kathy said.

She and Kaeli at Ag Specialist now help not only insure farmers’ livelihoods but also help build the packets of paperwork and get them ready for the FSA. Now, local farmers can get back to what they do best: farming and feeding America.

Farm Bill 2018: Cotton headed in a different direction

Cotton field pictured during the golden hour right before harvest.

LUBBOCK, TX – Given the deadline to revise a bill in 12 to18 months, cotton farmers and legislators are switching gears from lint to oil, seeking alternatives to aid the American cotton farmer to offset the impact of three years of low commodity prices.

Lint cotton prices started to decline in direct correlation with the World Trade Organization ruling against U.S. cotton in the case Brazil vs. United States in 2002.

“When Congress did the last farm bill one of the things they did was remove cotton out of the Title 1 because that was one of the sticking points,” said Darrin Hudson, Ph. D, Texas Tech University Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics professor, was a result of that ruling.

In doing so, lint cotton was removed from Title 1 and moved into the insurance title of the farm bill.

Title 1 programs are traditional farm income and price support mechanisms. Other commodities in Title 1 receive payments equal to the difference between the legislated price and what the market price is. Essentially, if the market price is above the legislated price, the farmer/producer receives no payment.

Executive Vice President of Plains Cotton Growers Inc., Steve Verett said, “the [insurance program] was not going to provide the kind of risk management cotton farmers needed for the long-term price decline.”

“We’ve been looking at any other option or other ways that we can try to provide that Title 1 support,” Verett said.

Aside from assessing risk, cotton is a unique crop from the standpoint that it produces two co-products, lint and cottonseed oil, which Verett said is just as valuable as vegetable oil.

With oil seeds comprising a significant amount of products in the U.S. there happens to be a minor oilseed title in the farm bill.

“A thing about the minor oilseeds is, individually, there are very small acres but in aggregate they are an important component. And so they deserve that protection,” said Shawn Wade, director of policy analysis and research for Plains Cotton Growers Inc.

Cottonseed oil recognition is at the forefront of Plains Cotton Growers Inc.’s agenda for this upcoming Farm Bill revision. Verett and Wade advocated for cottonseed oil to be recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Though cottonseed oil was not accepted in the minor oilseed title, the Secretary did hear the public and issued a one-time payment for the sharing of ginning cost.

Want to voice an opinion or keep up with the latest and upcoming hearings? Visit http://www.agriculture.senate.gov/hearings?mode=list to learn more.

The Department of Agricultural Education and Communications Department at Texas Tech University is considered a national leader in the discipline. The department offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in agricultural education, agricultural leadership, and agricultural communications. Faculty members represent a wide range of backgrounds, interests, and are involved in a variety of local, state, regional, national, and international activities and organizations. Visit www.depts.ttu.edu/aged/ for more information about the department.


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