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Ethanol  boom puts pressure on farm conservation programs

by Coral Davenport, CQ Staff, CQ GREEN SHEETS April 16, 2007

As U.S. ethanol production booms, the White House and many corn growers are squaring off against environmental groups over the conversion of preserved environmentally sensitive land into farmland for corn and other biofuel crops.

The House Agriculture Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research Subcommittee on Thursday holds a hearing on the issue as it looks toward reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Pressure from both sides is expected to spark debate as lawmakers revisit the billís conservation sections.

Currently, the Conservation Reserve Program preserves 36 million acres from crop production for environmental protection.

But under a White House budget proposal, the Agriculture Department would not enroll new acres in the Conservation Reserve Program. The demand for corn ethanol is so great that it would be more lucrative for farmers to plant more corn rather than enroll their acres in the land preservation program, USDA officials say.

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