Powerful agribusiness interests are lining up to lobby Congress to put millions of acres of land already enrolled in CRP back in production.

From this story in the Des Moines Register:
_Agribusiness interests are being warned they’d face a “ferocious” battle getting Congress to put some environmentally sensitive former farmland back into production, but they are pressuring lawmakers to use the next farm bill to do it anyway. About 31 million acres nationally are enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. About 1.7 million acres are in Iowa. In a letter to House and Senate agriculture committees, groups representing grain and feed traders, livestock producers, fertilizer manufacturers, meatpacker Tyson Foods and others say that more land needs to be farmed to loosen the tight grain supplies that have sent commodity prices soaring in the past year.
_The conservation program land likely includes 3 million to 5 million acres that formerly produced corn, much of it in Iowa, according to a report that the committees provided with the letter. But the report prepared by the ProExporter Network, which does industry analysis, warned that the political resistance from environmentalists and wildlife advocates “to bringing this land back into commercial use would be ferocious.” The land serves to prevent soil erosion and pollution of streams and rivers and also serves as valuable habitat for a variety of wildlife.

“Since conservation programs like CRP are often the only line of defense against the damage industrial agriculture does to our water and soil, I’d be more worried about the ferocious response from the American taxpayer who funds these programs and deserves a positive return for their investment,” said Don Carr, a spokesman for the Environmental Working Group._

What would you rather have: millions of acres of highly erodible and/or marginal cropland protected and serving as wildlife and gamebird islands in an ever-growing sea of monoculture production ag, or would you rather see those millions of acres tilled under and put into something like ethanol production?

As someone who lives smack in the middle of a CRP region, I can tell you, without hyperbole, that in many areas CRP parcels are the only – and I mean that literally – the only ground not currently in some type of crop production or intensive grazing. Take that away, put that ground into production and what you are left with are large swaths of the plains states that are, in essence, ecological deserts.

But CRP doesn’t serve exclusively as wildlife habitat. It is also, in a very real sense, a vast network of anchors that keep the soil rooted, especially in times of drought, coincidentally, the kind of drought many parts of the country are experiencing right now. Any student of history will tell you that the genesis of the Dustbowl can be traced directly to the sky-high commodities markets of the late teens and ’20s of the 20th century, in which wheat prices spurred a huge increase in the number of grassland acres being turned over and planted to wheat without regard to anything but quick profit. And when the rains stopped, just like they have now, there was nothing to hold that ground when the wind started blowing.

But maybe I’m wrong and those acres should go back into production and the invisible hand of the free market will solve all our problems. What do you think?