I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” Those are the nine most chilling words in the English language, according to the late President Ronald Reagan.

So it’s little wonder that pork producers do not receive and seldom ask for help from Washington, D.C. But with soaring feed costs because of weather challenges and rising biofuels production, the U.S. pork industry could certainly use a helping hand.

Every producer has felt the sting of the high corn and soybean meal prices which, in the past two years, have risen 215 percent and 240 percent, respectively.

The National Pork Producers Council has been working to bring some relief to producers, as the U.S. pork industry has lost more than $2 billion in equity.

In April, NPPC officers and staff met with USDA Secretary Ed Schaefer to request that the agency purchase an additional $50 million of sow meat for its various food-assistance programs. (In early May, USDA did agree to the $50 million purchase.) Such a purchase isn’t unprecedented. During the 1998/1999 hog crisis, USDA bought more than 118 million pounds of pork worth $127 million. Last year, the federal government purchased $53.4 million worth of pork for its various food programs.

After USDA lowered its estimated average corn yield in mid-June to less than 149 bushels per acre from 154 bushels, NPPC went back to Schaefer to ask that he approve an early release, without penalty, of non-environmentally sensitive lands in the Conservation Reserve Program. The point is to get acres back into crop production to meet the growing demand.

There was optimism that USDA would grant that request after a federal court on July 24 ruled the agency could move forward under its Critical Feed Use initiative to make modifications to some farmers’ CRP contracts who wanted to hay and graze on program lands.

The same court, in a July 18 decision, rejected a National Wildlife Federation petition to ban any release of CRP acres for haying and grazing, saying to do so “could be devastating to citizens who trusted that their government was acting legally in implementing the Critical Feed Use initiative, as well as to the nation and the world economy at large …”

NPPC also weighed in with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, urging it to grant Texas a waiver of the Renewable Fuel Standard, which this year requires the biofuels industry to produce 9 billion gallons of ethanol. That would require about one-third of this year’s corn crop, up 22 percent from last year. What’s more, the ethanol industry’s demand for corn is expected to grow by nearly 1 billion bushels in 2009.

Granting the waiver would have cut this year’s ethanol production mandate to 4.5 billion gallons. (The Renewable Fuel Standard for 2009 is 11.1 billion gallons.) But EPA chose not to suspend the RFS, saying it found no compelling evidence that the mandate was causing severe economic harm.

Tell that to pork producers who, over the past nine months, have gone out of business or the ones who’ve lost an average of $20 per hog.

Waiving the RFS would have eased the supply and price pressures on corn. Allowing CRP acres to move back into crop production would have helped the feedgrain situation even more.

But despite warnings from NPPC and other livestock groups about adverse effects on producers, USDA refused to release any CRP lands for row crops, citing positive crop progress reports and pointing to some CRP contracts set to expire by Sept. 30.

Only about 1 million acres, however, will exit CRP this year. Even with the August Crop Production Report projecting average corn and soybean yields at 155 bushels per acre and 40.5 bushels per acre, respectively, crop experts say USDA’s long-term estimates are too optimistic. Those same experts say at least 5 million CRP acres would need to enter production in 2009 to meet the ethanol industry’s demands and to keep pork producers’ heads above water.

Because of today’s feed supply and cost situation, the U.S. pork industry is expected to be smaller by year’s end than it was on Jan. 1. That means fewer pork producers, fewer jobs, less pork and higher pork retail prices. It also could impact the United States’ red-hot export market as it raises prices and questions about its role as a reliable supplier.

Maybe the pork producers who can stay in business should start praying for an abundant harvest and good weather; and perhaps they should add a 10th word to that chilling phrase: “I’m from the government, and I’m not here to help.”