The nation's zeal to break its oil addiction has run into conflict with a land conservation program that has been important to both farmers and hunting groups in order to boost corn production to supply ethanol as a renewable transportation fuel.
"President Bush's proposed budget would put a land conservation program that protects some 35 million acres on hold in favor of boosting corn production to meet the growing demand for ethanol."
"Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said his agency would offer no new Conservation Reserve Program enrollments in 2007 and 2008..."There's a lot of pressure to act because "the price of corn is very, very high," putting upward pressure on ethanol prices", Johanns said.
"The ethanol boom and accompanying high corn prices have some worried that farmers with expiring contracts might leave the program and use their land for crops."
"Since its creation in 1985, the voluntary CRP program has helped reduce erosion and improve air and water quality, according to USDA officials. It also has boosted the populations of ducks, ring-necked pheasants, prairie chickens, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and other wildlife."
"A study conducted for the agency last year concluded that every 4 percent increase in CRP acreage leads to a 22 percent increase in pheasant populations in areas such as South Dakota, where pheasants are common."
"Clearly, we're taking a step backward if all of the sudden we start to produce corn on very marginal acreage," Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever, said. "Because then you are talking about increased soil erosion, increased water quality problems and diminished wildlife. There's been a balance here that I'm really concerned about right now."