Monthly Archives: April 2014



Whatever Floats Your Boat – #DitchTheRule

By Val Wagner

“Navigable waters.” According to the internet, the accepted definition is: “deep and wide enough for boats and ships to travel on or through: capable of being navigated.”

Apparently that’s true for everyone…but EPA.

The new proposed ruling for the expanded Clean Water Act from the EPA would become the most far-reaching regulations we’ve yet seen from this regulatory agency. It’s meant to clarify what is determined as “Waters of the U.S.” In essence, almost any place that water could collect could be subject to regulation and the permitting process.

The CWA was started in 1972 as a way to curb pollution into what was determined navigable water from a single source – without a federal permit.

Most people would probably be amazed at what all requires permission from someone else in order to simply do something…even on your own property. There are permits to build stuff, permits to take down stuff, permits to use water, permits to take away water – I’m sure there are probably even agencies that have permits in order for another agency to allow permits. The process is essentially the same. You apply, based on whatever rules and regulations have been drawn up. You explain why you should be allowed a permit to complete whatever action or build whatever structure you have planned. You present your application with the proper fee, determined by the regulatory board or by law, and you wait to hear back.

Here’s the catch: there is no legal right to be allowed a permit. That’s right, even if you dot your I’s and cross your T’s and pay the fees and fill out each form in triplicate and you state sound reasons as to why your permit should be granted and have science on your side, you may be turned down.  Because we all know that decisions don’t always make sense.

And you may not find out if you’ve been granted a permit or if you’ve been turned down for days, or weeks, or months – we all know how speedy the federal government works, right?

Using conservation and good stewardship is nothing new to our farm. We make decisions every day based on what we feel will be best for tomorrow.

Using conservation and good stewardship is nothing new to our farm. We make decisions every day based on what we feel will be best for tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So let me try to wrap this up in a nut shell with a completely plausible scenario: Let’s say you’re a farmer that raises cattle, and cattle poop, and you want to use the natural fertilizer that you’ve been given. Let’s say that the field you want to fertilize has a low spot that collects water when it rains. Imagine now having to fill out paperwork and a permit in order to use that fertilizer near that low spot because it may collect water at some point in time?

So why use the fertilizer? Well, it helps your crops grow to their potential, it provides better grass for our cattle and it’s cheaper to use the product that nature is already providing. And remember, we’re talking about a spot that may/may not hold water at any point in the year. Yet the amount of water held isn’t in question. When the water is held there isn’t in question. It’s simply the ability for the ground to hold water that determines whether or not the CWA is applicable.

A single drop of water…is that all it would take?

A single drop of water…is that all it would take?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The good news? It’s not too late. The proposed rule changes are open to public comment through July 21 by visiting the website at http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm, or through the FBAct Insider page at: http://capwiz.com/afb/issues/alert/?alertid=63192396.

Laws and regulations that expand government reach and hurt our local economies will continue to be passed unless we’re willing to stand up and protect our rights for future generations. We need to let the EPA know that they need to #DitchTheRule.

My four boys drink from the hydrant in our yard. And there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to ensure that our water is safe for generations to come. Our family farm has been making improvements to our methods of farming for generations, not through regulations and laws, but through using common sense and stewardship.

The CWA was set up to protect places that could float a boat. My field is not such a place. My ditch is not such a place. My yard is not such a place. Not a single one of these places could float my boat…and neither does this rule.

North Dakota farmer Val Wagner is a graduate of the Partners in Agricultural Leadership Program and active in ag promotion & education activities.

Time to Ditch the Water Rule

By Chris Chinn

My husband, Kevin, and I farm in Northern Missouri with his parents and brother. We are the 5th generation of farmers in our family and we raise hogs, cattle, corn, soybeans and rye. We are also raising our children on our farm and clean water is important to us. Regardless of whether Environmental Protection Agency requires it, protecting our water is one of our priorities. We want to pass our farm onto the next generation so it only makes sense that we care for our natural resources in a responsible manner.

EPA’s proposed Clean Water Act rule will significantly affect our family farm. The proposed rule will expand the scope of “navigable waters” subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction by regulating ditches, small and remote “waters” and ephemeral drains where water moves only when it rains.

If dry farm fields and ordinary farm ditches and ponds are allowed to be regulated as “waters of the U.S.,” farming and ranching will suffer.

If dry farm fields and ordinary farm ditches and ponds are allowed to be regulated as “waters of the U.S.,” farming and ranching will suffer.

Most of these areas look more like land than like “waters” and they are dry most of the year. This proposed rule means any ditch on your land will be regulated by the EPA, even if it only holds water one day a year.  This will prohibit farmers from using land that is in or near a ditch unless they have a Clean Water Act permit.

Congress writes the laws of the land, not federal agencies. When Congress created the Clean Water Act, it clearly limited federal regulatory power to “navigable” waters.  Congress did not intend to allow EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to regulate farmland just because water occasionally flows across it. EPA should respect the limits set by Congress.

Some people are saying farmers and ranchers should have no concerns because we are “exempted” from the rule but this is not the case.  The “normal farming and ranching” exemption only applies to a specific type of Clean Water Act permit for “dredge and fill” materials.  There is also no farm or ranch exemption from Clean Water Act permit requirements for what the EPA would call “pollutants,” but I would call plant nutrients and protection products. This means under the proposed rule, many common and important practices like weed control and fertilizer spreading will be prohibited in or near so-called “waters” unless you have a Clean Water Act permit.  This further complicates my situation due to the fact we frequently use recycled fertilizer from our hog barns.

Another startling fact is the EPA and the Corps have interpreted the word “normal” to mean only longstanding operations in place since the 1970s—not newer or expanded farming and ranching. Does this mean when we pass our farm onto the next generation’s hands that they will no longer be able to farm that land? This rule would appear to me to be detrimental to new and beginning farmers—exactly the type of farmer that many of us in agriculture have been working hard to support. That just makes no sense.

The proposed Waters of the U.S. ruling is a bad idea and it will cripple the ability of farmers and ranchers to continue to produce food. If the proposed rule prevails, it will be illegal for farmers to spray for weeds or apply fertilizer to their ground unless they have a permit. Routine tasks like building fences will even require permits if they will be built in or near a ditch. Many farming practices are time-sensitive and farmers cannot afford to wait on a government agency to process a permit.

Common sense goes a long way and it is desperately needed when looking at this proposed ruling. If dry farm fields and ordinary farm ditches and ponds are allowed to be regulated as “waters of the U.S.,” farming and ranching will suffer and so will those who depend on agriculture for food.

We need to make our voices heard. It is time to ditch the water rule. You can share your comments and make your voice count by visiting the FBAct Insider page: http://capwiz.com/afb/issues/alert/?alertid=63192396.

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Chris Chinn formerly served as chair of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s national Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee. She is currently a “Faces of Farming and Ranching” spokesperson for the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. 

 

Life Lessons from Maple Syrup

I tried something new this winter. Late last spring, my dad and I were bitten by the maple syrup bug. Someone we knew had made a couple gallons of syrup from trees in his backyard and he made it sound relatively simple: tap the tree, collect the sap and boil it. My dad and I talked about it all summer and fall, and then one evening this winter, we tapped our first maple tree.

Life-Lessons-from-Maple-SyrupThat first little drop of sugar water to hit the bottom of the bucket made me so happy I squealed. I felt like a little girl as I clapped my hands excitedly and pointed. I think it made my dad happy too, but of course, he didn’t squeal. For weeks, I made a daily trek with my empty water jugs up to the mountain to check my trees. On weekends, I boiled the water down in a process that took much longer than I expected.

However, I can now proudly say I have made a gallon of maple syrup that my family will thoroughly enjoy eating over our pancakes and waffles. My little gallon of syrup has made me realize that even in the deadness of winter there is hope for spring ahead. While it might seem that the grass magically turns green overnight after a warm rain, the land actually spends weeks preparing itself for a new season of growth.

As dreary as winter can be sometimes, it makes you appreciate God’s creation so much more when spring finally arrives. Happy Springtime, my friends! May this season be as sweet as maple syrup!