Among the frustrations for baking in recent years in influencing governmental decisions, the inability to effect change in the Conservation Reserve Program ranks high. Even with grain prices establishing record highs in 2007-08 at mind-numbing levels and with the tightest ending stocks in decades, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was uninterested in offering farmers the opportunity to exit the C.R.P. early.
Particularly frustrating were indications that the reluctance to change was driven not by agricultural or environmental concerns but by the popularity of the program with hunting and fishing groups such as Ducks Unlimited. An announcement last week by the U.S.D.A. offers more than a glimmer of hope that the Department is at last willing to take a fresh look.
The U.S.D.A. invited public comments on the C.R.P. and will hold nine public meetings around the country to look at such topics as program enrollment terms. Particularly promising was the declaration that the Department would prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. The American Bakers Association in 2008 had pleaded with the Department to prepare such a statement, which is a prerequisite for program changes.
Industry sources suggested that C.R.P. changes under the Obama administration are likely to be incremental rather than dramatic. It is thought that growers will be reluctant to sign 15-year contracts, surrendering the opportunity for such a long period to take advantage of extraordinary market opportunities that may arise.
The U.S.D.A. said it was seeking ways to make the program "more effective for producers" while improving conservation benefits. Baking should take advantage of this opening, hopeful that sensible policy proposals will not automatically be blocked by fishing and hunting interests.