The rapid growth of ethanol production threatens to drive up corn prices and push livestock producers into a costly scramble for grain over the next couple of years, two former U.S. agriculture secretaries said at a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on Sept. 14.

“In our rush to secure our energy security, we could easily neglect the fundamental need for food security," Dan Glickman, agriculture secretary during the Clinton administration, told the subcommittee.

"This conflict could happen in the next two or three years," Glickman said. "I'd love to see (higher) prices for corn, but I tell you, that would wipe out" livestock feeders.

Clayton Yeutter, agriculture secretary for President George H.W. Bush, said uncomfortably small corn stockpiles and high prices "certainly could be an issue in the short run.”

Yeutter said he didn’t believe it would be a problem in the long run because of the potential of new sources of ethanol, such as grasses and woody plants.

"We could be out of the export market" in two or three years due to rising demand for corn for ethanol, said Rep. Collin Peterson, Minnesota Democrat.

Rick Tolman, chief executive of the National Corn Growers Association, said farmers could boost corn output sharply to meet rising demand. He said he would meet with U.S. livestock groups on Friday to assure them corn supplies will remain ample.

Tolman said "there's no question" farmers could expand corn output to meet food and fuel needs. They’ve grown more than 11 billion bushels of corn for three years in a row, he said, and "it's well within" possibility to reap 12 billion bushels next year.