News from the Tennessee Valley Business

Cotton under pressure from WTO, competition

An important cash crop in the Tennessee Valley, cotton, has been taking a beating in World Trade Organization negotiations. Now it also faces increased competition.

A recent study by Texas Tech University’s Cotton Economics Research Institute found that India will soon surpass the United States in cotton production, largely because of technological breakthroughs in seed and production practices. China remains No. 1 in cotton production, but India will overtake the U.S. as No. 2.

The WTO negotiations pit America, which complains of excessive tariffs on its agricultural exports, against developing countries who complain of heavy governmental subsidization of the U.S. cotton industry. Eighty percent of U.S. cotton is exported, and critics say a farm bill proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture would increase cotton subsidies.

The issue is particularly volatile because of the impact U.S. subsidies have on the world’s poorest nations. Africa has 15 million cotton farmers. They blame U.S. subsidies for flooding the world market with below-cost cotton.

The U.S. repealed some export subsidies on cotton after Brazil won a 2004 verdict at the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body.

Subsidies are big business in North Alabama, especially when it comes to cotton. Limestone County farms bagged $11.8 million in subsidies in 2005, Lawrence County farms brought in $9.6 million, and Morgan County farms received $1.3 million. Between 1995 and 2005, farms in the three counties collected $186 million in federal subsidies.

SpaceX launch

The only significant competitor to United Launch Alliance’s position as the sole producer of governmental satellite-launch rockets is Space Exploration Technologies, owned by Elon Musk. Its first test flight, a year ago, was a disaster. Its second flight was Tuesday.

While the company put a good face on it, the demonstration was something less than a success. It failed to reach its intended orbit after a collision between two of its stages. Stage 1, designed to be reusable, was lost at sea because its global positioning system homing device malfunctioned.

SpaceX was the main adversary to the formation of ULA. It appears it has some kinks to work out before it can present its product as a credible alternative to ULA’s Delta II, Delta IV and Atlas V.


Last week’s column posed the question of whether railroads should face some liability for crossing fatalities. The goal of such a move would be to harness market forces in assessing risk at given crossings and coming up with more innovative ways of protecting the public.

A Limestone County man died March 16 at the Greenbrier Road crossing.

Dozens of readers responded, including Vickie Moore. The column ran on the 12th anniversary of her son’s death at a railroad crossing.

“Railroads have no liability for most crossing accidents, so they place no value on the victims,” Moore said.

She operates a Web site devoted to the issue at

To contact Eric Fleischauer, e-mail him at eric@decaturdaily .com.

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