The Anniston Star

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July 31, 2014
Cotton field

Voters give cotton farmers OK on marketing, research program decision

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Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 10:50 pm | Updated: 9:29 am, Wed Jul 16, 2014.

Alabama voters approved a state constitutional amendment Tuesday that allows Alabama cotton growers to decide whether to require a post-harvest fee to fund the marketing and research of their crop.

A voluntary cotton checkoff program was implemented sometime during the 1970s, according to Mary Johnson, the news director for the Alabama Farmers Federation.  The program charges cotton growers a one-dollar-per-bale fee to fund promotion and research. Under the current system, growers are able to opt out of the program and receive a refund for the fee after their harvest.

The Tuesday vote for the amendment allows cotton growers to hold their own referendum to decide whether or not checkoff fees should be mandatory.

“We’re excited to see that the amendment has passed,” said Johnson. “This is kind of the start of work for us because now we can schedule a vote, establish a polling location and we can let our growers know where and when they can decide on this.”

Proponents of the amendment claim that the checkoff fund benefits all cotton growers, regardless of whether they choose to participate. On Tuesday evening, many area cotton farmers were pleased with the results.

“That’s good news for me,” said Doug Trantham, a Calhoun County cotton farmer. “I encouraged other people to vote and there were people I didn’t even know that were calling me asking to explain what it was. I think it’s good. We need to continue to promote our product.”

“I think it’s a good thing that the citizens of the state of Alabama have seen fit to give the cotton producers a shot at their own oversight,” said Nick McMichen, a Cherokee County grower. “I think it’s the proper thing to do and I think it’s a big success for cotton growers.”

The amendment’s opponents claim that the proposed changes to the program will take money from them that they normally use otherwise. Bibb Mims, a Monroe County grower who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the amendment, told the Star earlier this month that voters do not know what the amendment entails. In May, Mims told the Star that he had a refund of $3,000 last year and he felt that the Alabama Cotton Commission was trying to take it.

Mims was unavailable for comment on Tuesday evening. A person who answered the phone at his home said he had gone to bed.

Other opponents of the amendment cited concerns that the amendment would place a new tax on cotton growers. On Tuesday, Trantham stressed that the checkoff program is no such thing.

“It’s not a tax,” he said. “It’s a promotion checkoff for us to continue to research the cotton industry and improve the cotton plant.”

Harry Shiver, the only lawmaker to vote against the legislation to change the amendment, had little to say following the results on Tuesday evening.

“I reckon the people wanted it and that’s all there is to say.”

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