Requests to free land in the federal Conservation Reserve Program for corn production seem to have fallen on deaf ears in the Obama administration.
Last week 25 House members joined NPPC and others in asking that farmers be allowed to grow crops temporarily on CRP land. The idea is to head off grain shortages that could play havoc with food prices later in the year and even lead to animal well-being issues.
This week Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declined to endorse that concept, noting that the conservation program is still popular and that farmers are increasing corn acreage by switching land from other crops. (Still, USDA estimates only a 14-day reserve of corn stocks.) Speaking to reporters from Iowa, where he toured farms and agribusinesses, Vilsack also flatly rejected the idea that using corn for ethanol drives up food prices. In 2008, Vilsack said, only 10 percent of the food price increase resulted from ethanol.
Meanwhile, the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee predicted the Conservation Reserve Program will be an issue in Congress next year, since reducing the program saves money. Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson also told the Des Moines Register CRP acres may shrink on their own because USDA has tightened requirements for staying in the program. “If you have land that can be farmed, you’re not going to get back in (CRP),” he said.