Representative Frank Lucas, R-Okla., thinks the government should consider releasing idled land for crop production if the acreage is needed to stabilize supplies of corn and other commodities. According to Lucas, such a provision included in the new farm bill would allow the Agriculture Department to reduce the size of the Conservation Reserve Program in case of crop shortages. Such a move would give USDA the flexibility to allow at least enough acres to come out to maintain some kind of equilibrium.
The proposal reflects concerns in the food and livestock industries that the increased use of corn for ethanol is driving up the cost of producing meat, milk and other products. Environmental groups and hunting interests Have fought efforts to shrink the conservation program in the past because the acreage provides wildlife habitat and prevents soil from eroding. That protects streams, ponds and lakes from runoff of farm chemicals.
About 30.7 million acres of environmentally sensitive former cropland is currently idled in the conservation program. The acreage is planted to grass or trees, and landowners receive an annual payment that averages $55 an acre nationwide. Lucas told the Des Moines Register, converting some of that acreage to food production would be better than encouraging our competitors around the world to plow up more rain forest or grasslands to grow crops.