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POLITICO reports:

Ag secretary Vilsack poured cold water on Republican and industry calls to pull land out of the Conservation Reserve Program and put it back into production, even as the conflict in Ukraine poses food security risks worldwide.

"Quickly converting this land to crop production is clearly unfeasible, even if we were to overlook the negative consequences of increased erosion and reduced water quality, wildlife habitat reduction, and decreased carbon sequestration and storage," Vilsack wrote in a letter to the National Grain and Feed Association obtained by MA.

Quick recap of CRP: Under the conservation program, ag producers are paid a yearly rate to remove "environmentally sensitive" cropland from production for a decade or longer and take steps to improve the land's health. They can receive higher payments by adopting certain climate-friendly practices that improve water quality, increase carbon sequestration or protect wildlife habitats (although, as POLITICO reported, the program has significant limitations ). Landowners enrolled 5.3 million acres through CRP in 2021.

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Republicans including Senate Ag ranking member John Boozman (Ark.) urged Vilsack to allow production of various grains on CRP-enrolled land, as a way for the U.S. to help combat global food insecurity caused by the war.

Why Vilsack isn't on board: The secretary notes that acres enrolled in CRP are largely non-prime farmland, with recent data showing only 1.3 percent is considered "prime," essentially meaning high-quality land that's ripe for production. He also notes that "a considerable proportion of currently enrolled CRP acres are in areas experiencing significant levels of drought," and a majority of land enrolled is grassland or suited for grazing - not crop production.

In other words: "Production on those acres would be marginal at best, and there is no realistic way to convert all CRP acres into cropland in 2022," Vilsack wrote. "It is critical to point out that if we allow the tillage of CRP acres, the marginal at best benefit to crop production will be coupled with a significant and detrimental impact on producers' efforts to mitigate climate change and maintain the long-term health of their land."

Reminder: The fear of a food supply shock stems from Ukraine and Russia's outsized role as producers and exporters of much of the world's wheat and other grains. The war has already put Ukraine's harvest at risk, and as recently as Friday, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to limit the country's ag and food exports to "friendly" nation's only, in retaliation to Western sanctions.

The comments came just after Russia's agriculture ministry imposed a quota on sunflower oil exports and banned exports of sunflower seeds and rapeseed. The U.N.'s food chief recently warned of dire consequences as food shortages in the fall could spark a migration crisis and political turmoil.

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