The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is urging Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to release early and without penalty non-environmentally sensitive farm acres currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), so those acres can be placed into crop production to combat the growing possibility of feed-grain shortages that could jeopardize animal care.

NPPC’s letter sent last week also asked the agency to take “all other possible steps to open tight grain markets and provide access to USDA emergency programs to ensure that U.S. pork producers can feed the animals in their care.”

NPPC pointed out that while last year’s corn crop was among the four largest ever recorded, USDA projects corn carryover supplies for approximately 20 days and for soybeans of only 13 days. “Both are historic lows and will cause unprecedented levels of risk, prompt speculation in the marketplace and increase the likelihood of localized corn shortages,” the organization said. “The result will be, in addition to extreme price volatility, an economic environment in which U.S. pork producers may simply be unable to procure the grain necessary to feed the animals in their care.”

NPPC is concerned that producers will have difficulty finding feedgrains at any price and that rapid price increases will return producers to long-term losses similar to a couple of years ago. From September 2007 to March 2010, U.S. pork producers lost an average of nearly $24 on each hog marketed mainly due to U.S. biofuels policy and grain issues in other parts of the world.

Producers did average $10.25/head profits in 2010, but profits for 2011 are shrinking to less than $5/head, driven entirely by pressures on feed availability and costs.

Fall-out from tightening grain supplies could result in sustained losses for pork producers, jeopardizing their future in the pork industry, and costing many rural on- and off-farm jobs.

NPPC is also asking USDA to “support and defend U.S. pork exports” through agency programs such as the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program.

NPPC also requested the agriculture secretary to reconstitute its sub-cabinet, the Inter-Departmental Livestock Task Force to examine current market challenges facing U.S. pork and livestock industries and to review potential policy options and recommendations.