WASHINGTON — A group of congressmen led by Devin Nunes of California have signed a letter to President Barack Obama asking that he temporarily but immediately open Conservation Reserve- Program contracts.

“This action is urgently needed, and to maximize production, must be made by May 1, 2011,” they said.
While the United States has enjoyed a history of agricultural abundance, Mr. Nunes identified “warning signs” that increasingly point to the need for action.

“Current stocks are at a 15-year low and global demand is growing,” the group said. “Analysts have indicated that the market is moving toward rationing, a conclusion that is supported by grain stock projections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which suggest the likelihood that there will be end-of-year shortages.

“Grain shortages and the resulting high prices will severely impact food production. At a time when our nation is struggling economically, including high levels of unemployment, soaring prices will have a particularly devastating effect. Low-income Americans are highly vulnerable to rising food prices. In addition, food assistance programs will be hard-hit — compounding the program.

Suggesting “each new acre of production will help improve the situation,” the congressmen said the U.S.D.A. should release, without penalty, arable C.R.P. land to growers who would like to produce grains.

“Finally, while we understand that not all of the 31.3 million acres currently under contract are viable for grain production, we do believe that significant acreage can yield crops,” they said. “To prevent a crisis, the U.S.D.A. must act to provide immediate relief to the distressed market by releasing C.R.P. land as appropriate to produce grains.”

Mr. Nunes, a Republican, represents the San Joaquin Valley of California, a heavily agricultural area. He is currently serving in his fifth term in the House of Representatives and is a member of the Ways and Means Committee and of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Offering additional background on the issue, Mr. Nunes said that while grain planted area in 2011 is expected to be nearly the largest in 50 years at 92 million acres, “domestic supplies of grains are falling at the fastest rate ever recorded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

“Global demand for grains has soared and various national and international agencies are predicting that shortages are likely,” he said. “As a result, many nations are stockpiling reserves. Throughout Asia and the developing world, governments are working to establish significant reserves. It is time for the U.S. government to recognize the crisis and take action.

“Meanwhile, U.S. consumer food prices (for proteins) have risen by 6.8% in the past year, more than triple inflation,” he said. “The costs of staple commodities are rising at an alarming rate, threatening the weakened U.S. economy but also pushing struggling families beyond their limits.”

The group of Republican congressmen who signed the letter included Jeff Denham of California, Sam Graves of Missouri, Reid Ribble of Wisconsin, Wally Herger of California, Tom McClintock of California, Ed Royce of California, Duncan Hunter of California, John Sullivan of Oklahoma, Daniel Lungren of California, Tim Griffin of Arkansas, Kevin McCarthy of California, Steve Womack of Arkansas, Eric Crawford of Arkansas, Darrell Issa of California, Trent Franks of Arizona, Howard P. (Buck) McKeon of California, Brian Bilbray of California, Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, Ken Calvert of California, Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, Lynn A. Westmoreland of California, Tom Graves of Georgia and Kenny Marchant of Texas.