WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.  — As U.S. farm bill conferees convened to begin the process of resolving differences between the U.S. House and Senate bills, the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) sent a letter to the conferees making recommendations regarding the commodity section and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

Concerning the commodity programs, the NGFA urged conferees to decouple farm income safety net programs from actual plantings. The NGFA noted that historically, when government commodity programs encourage planting that is inconsistent with market demand, it negatively affects markets, international trade relationships and the agriculture industry as a whole. 

The NGFA in particular warned that “linking any type of farm program income supports to actual plantings ... could risk exposing the United States to potential trade challenges under the World Trade Organization.”

The NGFA also urged conferees to reduce further the CRP acreage cap, while retaining language in the House-passed bill that would allow certain non-environmentally sensitive land to exit the C.R.P. before contract expiration without penalty.

Currently, the House farm bill would reduce the existing 32-million-acre cap to 24 million acres, while the Senate version would lower it to 25 million acres — both through a gradual, stair-step approach over a period of years.

The NGFA noted that the most recent CRP general sign-up results reflected the continued trend toward increased planting of crops on land suitable for production in response to market demand. If sign-ups remain steady over the next five years, the NGFA wrote, the resulting acres enrolled in the CRP would decline to less than 22 million acres.

Meanwhile, the penalty-free early-out provision in the House farm bill would allow CRP contract holders to terminate their contracts in fiscal year 2014, provided the land meets specified criteria and has been enrolled in CRP for at least the previous five years.