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Farm bill debate attracts notice from non-farmers
Since we have begun the process of changing our corn into fuel, there has been a lot of interest in the implications. This interest is not only in the farm community.

I was asked recently to speak to the Cincinnati Chapter of the Bread for the World Organization. They wanted to understand farm subsidies, the history of the farm programs, past benefits from the farm bills and what was forecast for the next farm bill.

I think they never realized how much information they had requested. This organization advocates for efforts to alleviate hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world.

We need to think about food vs. fuel vs. the effect on the environment as Carl Zulauf, Ohio State University professor, pointed out in a presentation to the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts this past January.

The combination of the increasing use of farm products to produce fuel and the increasing demand for food from rapidly growing, less-developed countries, has outstripped the historic increase in the supply of farm products. This has resulted in higher prices.

Zulauf said higher prices will bring adjustments. It is likely we will have less livestock production. It is also possible some land will be returned to production that was in reserve for environmental reasons.

Another adjustment could be a biofuel market limited in size to legislative mandates tied to clean air. Each adjustment contains negative trade-offs, including reduced availability of food (a problem especially for the poor), less U.S.-produced livestock and a loss of environmental benefits from land retirement programs (notably, the 36.7 million acres in CRP - Conservation Reserve Program).

There could also be a lost opportunity to develop a second demand source for farm products.

It is clear that, even though we are producing six times as much corn per acre than we were in 1926, more science will need to be used to come close to supplying the demand for corn.

It is also clear that many groups not associated with agriculture are very interested in the 2007 farm bill.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Steve Bartels may write to him in care of this publication.

3/8/2007