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Farm policy critics hit close to farm leaders’ homes

Ron Litterer may be having second thoughts about becoming president of the National Corn Growers Association next month. Litterer hasn’t become a poster boy for farm policy critics the way some farm group leaders have in recent years.

But the Floyd County, Iowa, farmer has begun to get some heat from national media who have picked up on livestock industry complaints about the demand for ethanol driving up food prices.

An Associated Press article that made the Sunday newspapers noted that when Litterer begins making the rounds in Washington asking for support for increased ethanol production this fall, meat, dairy and food processor spokesmen will be lobbying in the other direction.

A press release for a new anti-farm documentary film, “King Corn,” contains a reference to Greene, Iowa, Litterer’s hometown. The release claims current farm policy “(especially on corn) is depressing rural economies, destroying family farms and wreaking havoc on our health.”

The AP article said corn farmers are pushing renewable fuels because the industry is creating a wave of prosperity in the rural Midwest where ethanol plants seem to be springing up at every turn.

“But the corn farmer’s win is the hog farmer’s loss,” the article says, which is an interesting comment considering Litterer also raises hogs on his farm in northern Iowa.

The food vs. fuel controversy is generating some heat even in Iowa where ethanol is seen as the economic salvation for many communities. Earlier this year, Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development said higher corn prices could increase beef, pork and poultry by 6.8 percent to 8.5 percent.

Litterer says fears of rising corn prices sparking higher grocery bills are overhyped: Hog producers have had lengthy periods of prosperity in recent years while corn growers were receiving $1.50 per bushel.

Such articles are more than of passing interest to Sunbelt farmers. With the region having increased corn acres exponentially, the latter have a vested interest in corn (and in a stronger basis at local elevators).

Nor is the debate confined to corn. With wheat prices reaching unheard of levels in recent days, stories are already appearing about Italian food lovers having to pay more for pasta.

Litterer will be a busy man between now and when Congress ends this year’s session Nov. 17. Besides the farm bill, Congress is expected to vote on legislation including a renewable fuel standard that establishes a 36-billion-gallon target for ethanol use by 2012.

What would be interesting would be if the national media began picking up on how livestock operations — and consumers — have benefited from the lower grain prices farmers have only been able to survive because of farm program payments.

For years, members of Congress and others have been saying farmers should get their income from the marketplace. Now that that’s finally happening for corn, soybean and wheat farmers, it would be a shame if Congress undercut the basis for that turnaround.

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