During 2015, my office addressed many agricultural issues important to South Texas. Throughout the year we met with local farmers, producers, and key agriculture stakeholders from the 34th District of Texas.
Given my assignment on the House Committee on Agriculture, I work closely with organizations and agencies, such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), to bring their attention to these matters.
Back in February, I hosted Edward Avalos, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, in South Texas. During his visit, we traveled to Kingsville and Weslaco to meet with constituents to listen to their concerns and answer questions. Given the under secretary’s oversight of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the main topics were fever tick, citrus greening, and the Mexican fruit fly. I remain concerned about the USDA’s response to these and other matters.
With so many issues impacting the district at once, I have made it a point to continue the fight to contain and ultimately eradicate these diseases and pests. As a member of the Congressional Citrus Caucus, I believe that working with other members who also have citrus in their districts will raise awareness and potentially lead to more funding. My South Texas colleagues, Rubén Hinojosa, Henry Cuellar and I joined efforts to fund citrus greening research through the appropriations process. Thankfully, funding for citrus greening research was included in the FY 16 omnibus funding bill at a total of $7.5 million. I remain committed to funding the research necessary to eradicate citrus greening.
In addition to the citrus greening research funding, the FY 16 omnibus funding bill included a $60 million loan authorization for the Boll Weevil Eradication program. In 2016, I will continue my strong support to fund this program.
The cotton industry is now confronting yet another potential disaster. U.S. cotton acres in 2015 were at their lowest level since 1983, representing a 42 percent decrease since the high set in 2011. Lenders in the agricultural industry are sympathetic to the problems producers are experiencing because of these market conditions. I am currently involved in leading an effort amongst Members of Congress requesting that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack use his authority to designate cottonseed as an oilseed. Labeling cottonseed as an oilseed will allow farmers that produce cottonseed to be eligible for the same farm bill resources as other oilseed farmers.
While the cottonseed designation would not require re-opening the farm bill, a bill that was proposed in November would have. Section 201 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 called for the repeal of the 2014 Farm Bill language requiring budget neutrality in any renegotiation of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement with the insurance companies, while reducing the targeted rate of return for companies from 14 percent down to 8.9 percent. This proposal had the potential to drive private industry out of crop insurance, making access to federal crop insurance difficult for many farmers and ranchers. I joined Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway and Ranking Member Collin Peterson and other supporters of the agriculture community and fought to remove this harmful and senseless provision. We demanded that the language be removed on the basis that the Agriculture committee had not been consulted prior to the inclusion of the new provision. Thankfully, an agreement was reached, and ultimately, Section 201 was kept out of the budget.
It was most certainly a busy year for agriculture, and I anticipate this year being just as eventful. I will continue to take the necessary steps to make a strong and lasting agriculture industry for the 34th district, the state of Texas, and the entire United States.
Editor’s Note: The above commentary from Congressman Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, first appeared in a newsletter he sent to constituents in Congressional District 34.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this guest column shows U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota, examining branches from a tree infected with citrus greening. Looking on are Humberto Garza, then-district director for Vela’s office and Dr. Erik Mirkov, virologist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. At rear is Manny Gautreaux, operations manager at the Center. (Photo: Texas AgriLife/Rod Santa Ana)