Livestock producers have been expressing concerns about a limited supply of corn if the 2011 growing season proves difficult for farmers, and livestock producers have to compete with ethanol plants for corn.

The National Pork Producers Council has called for a “corn contingency plan” that would direct where dwindling supplies may be used, but U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is reluctant to discuss such a move, as he says the “markets are pretty sensitive” to the proposal. 

“What we can say is that I’m confident that we’re able to meet these needs,” Vilsack says. “And why am I confident? Because when you produce ethanol, you don’t just produce ethanol. A third of that crop actually results in livestock feed supplements.”

The U.S.D.A. estimates a record number of acres will be planted with corn this growing season.

“Early indications in terms of weather: there was concern about the Dakotas and whether or not there would be flooding and that might impact and affect their yields. We’re not seeing the flooding that we thought we would see early, which is good,” Vilsack says.”We know that there are going to be more seeds per acre planted, and so our expectation is the yields are going to be better. They were not very good last year, in part, because of weather.”

According to Vilsack, corn yields have increased 334 percent in his lifetime and the former Iowa says the U.S. hasn’t “reached the top” yet in corn production. 

“I am not one of these individuals that is trying to put limits on American agriculture,” Vilsack says. “It is very surprising to me that there are so many people in America today that somehow think American producers are not up to the challenge. They have always been up to the challenge.” 

High demand for corn — and higher prices for the crop — are prompting farmers to dedicate more acres to raising corn this season. 

Vilsack made his comments on the Iowa Public Television program, “Iowa Press,” which aired Friday night and will be rebroadcast Sunday at 11:30 a.m.