Author Archives: Glenn Brunkow





Navigate Common Sense and Ditch the Rule

A couple of weeks ago the rain started early one Sunday morning and did not let up until almost noon. It was a rain like we had not had in a long time (I am sorry for my drought-stricken friends, this may be a little hard to read). It was a great rain, it came down steadily and the dry ground really soaked it up. I believe (and it is only a guess since yours truly did not remember to take in his rain gauge last fall), that we received about three inches of rain.

Even though the rain came fairly slowly it still saturated the soil and because of that water started to run off. Soon there was a nice little stream running down the hillside by my house and down the road. The inner child in me wanted to put my boots on, grab a toy boat and float it down the very temporary stream. Then I realized that would be a very bad idea.

Sailboat ditch
Why would that be a bad idea? It would only prove that my little temporary stream was navigable on some level. The next logical question would be who cares? Well, apparently the EPA and the Corp of Engineers in all of their glorious wisdom and endless red tape care. Under a new proposed rule, the EPA and the Corp of Engineers would like to declare my little raging river of 15 minutes part of the “Waters of the U.S.”

Why is this a problem? This proposed new rule would declare almost every puddle, temporary stream, ditch, diversion or any other water hole part of the “Waters of the U.S.” and there is the problem. As part of the “Waters of the U.S.” almost every piece of land we farm or ranch would come under the regulation of the EPA and Corp of Engineers. Normal farming activities such as fence building, spraying and tillage could need a permit before they could be completed.

I don’t know about you, but I can only imagine the red tape and the waiting period that would come with any EPA or Corp of Engineers permit (not to mention cost). We all know what kind of time we have to wait around during the spring, the weather is usually nice and we have plenty of time to get things done. No, we are usually on a tight time frame in between weather systems and we cannot be delayed. Don’t overlook the fact that if we have to apply for a permit, it gives these two governmental agencies the ability to control how we farm and ranch.

In fairness, the EPA says that it will not bother us and that this rule is only meant to cover just a very few acres. Maybe they are telling the truth, but is this a chance you want to take? We live in a time when the increasing weight of federal government oversight makes it harder and harder to do our jobs and grow the food that even bureaucrats need. Another side of this issue that makes me just as nervous is the fact that the proposed new rule did not come down from Congress. This is something the EPA and the Corp of Engineers created to take more control away from local and state agencies. Our elected officials are almost powerless to change this rule. I don’t think this is how it is supposed to work.

We do have a chance to voice our opinions on this proposed new rule but the time is getting short.

We have until July 21 to go to the EPA and comment. Please, before you do this, do some research and make sure you have all the facts, don’t take my word, read the information and make up your own mind. Information is easy to find, and I am sure you have already heard and read quite a bit about this. Folks, if there was ever a time to take action, it is now.

Go to ditchtherule.fb.org and make your voice heard!

I fear the noose of regulation will keep getting tighter and tighter and all of this in a time when we need to be more productive than we have ever been in agriculture. We know how to best care for the land and water we depend on and we need to be able to make those decisions on our own farms and in a timely manner. Let’s all let the EPA and Corps know that their boat just won’t float and to ditch the rule.

Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer. He previously served on the national AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee and is a graduate of the Partners in Agricultural Leadership (PAL) program.

National Security and the Farm Bill…Wake Up D.C.

We are looking right down the barrel of an important junction in the history of our nation. I am sure that we all are disgusted with the bi-partisan arguing and inaction in Washington, D.C. I don’t care which side of the aisle you align yourself with, no one can be proud of what is going on, or more accurately, not going on in our nation’s capital. This summer the inaction seems to have gotten to a fever pitch, and I fear it will affect the very bedrock of our nation. That bedrock is agriculture and that means a farm bill needs to get done and needs to get done right now.

A strong agricultural system has always been the key to the success of the United States. Not only can we feed ourselves, but we can also provide food and fiber to a good portion of the world. I would challenge you to go through history and find an example of an enduring world power without a strong agricultural foundation. Food security is the first thing that must be established to ensure that a society will grow and flourish.

The United States has been a prime example of this. For many years we have known that our success lies with the success of our farmers and ranchers and their ability to not only survive but to also increase their productivity as our need for food and fiber increased. This dependence on a strong agricultural system is what led to the development of the farm bill and what has sustained the farm bill no matter which party was in control or what else was going on politically. It has long been understood that a farm bill needs to be a priority. A strong food and fiber production system was undeniably a matter of national security.

I think my friend Ben Boyd, a farmer from Georgia, summed it up best. Ben said, “If you like being dependent on foreign oil, you are going to love being dependent on foreign food.” Just think about how the price of crude oil fluctuates based on the whims of other nations who do not have our best interests in mind. Now think about how it would be if that was your food we were talking about. Maintaining and protecting our farmers and ranchers is of utmost importance.

Want an example of how important the farm bill is? Probably the most important piece in the farm bill is the support of crop insurance. Without subsidized crop insurance most farmers could not afford it. Without crop insurance many of my friends in western Kansas would now be out of business because of the sustained drought. Did they get rich because of this coverage? Absolutely not, but it did allow them to pay their bills and stay in business.

Yes, it allowed them to pay their bills, which also allowed Main Street in many small western Kansas towns to survive. We often worry about the outward migration from rural America; I promise you this would have been even worse in the past few years without crop insurance sustaining many of the farmers and the communities they live in. Crop insurance has become our food safety net.

Crop insurance has also become absolutely critical when we go to secure loans with which to operate. In a time of increased oversight and regulation on our lending partners, crop insurance allows bankers to feel more secure loaning the large amounts of capital it takes to operate a farm or ranch. Without crop insurance, many younger or newer farmers would not be able to obtain the loans they depend on. The next generation of ag producer needs to be encouraged, not discouraged, from picking up the torch and running with it.

Right now Congress is out on recess (seems kind of ironic because in school if we didn’t get our work done, we didn’t get recess), and it is a great time to contact your congressional delegation. Folks, we are all in this together, because if you aren’t producing the food, you are certainly eating it. We all need to reach out to our elected officials and let them know that a farm bill is something that needs to be done now and not later.

Maybe this stalemate is a sign of the times because most people have never had to worry about food or thought about the farmers and ranchers who produce it. It might be that it is a product of the “my way or no way” attitude that permeates our government. Whatever the reason, a farm bill must be crafted and passed. I would ask that you contact your congressional delegation and let them know that passing a farm bill is not a Republican agenda item or a Democratic agenda item; it is a matter of national security for each of us.

Farmers and Ranchers, the Ultimate Environmentalists

Yesterday I had the unique opportunity to take part in a survey administered by two K-State geography students. This survey was gauging how those of us in agriculture viewed climate and the environment around us. As I answered I realized those of us in agriculture go to great lengths to protect our environment. Here is what I shared with them.

Farmers and ranchers have always been keenly aware of the land, water and air around them and we have always tried to protect those valuable assets. But in the past ten years we have come to an even greater understanding of how to protect and improve the world around us. Improvements in technology (yes, the same technology the radical fringes would try to use against us) have allowed us to preserve more of the soil, water and air we all depend on.

Advances such as genetically modified crops have allowed us to use better herbicides allowing for less invasive weed control methods. Many of us now use herbicides such as Round-up to control weeds rather than mechanically cultivating the ground. Mechanical cultivation tills the soil allowing for erosion due to the wind and water. By not tilling up the land we are also keeping more of the organic matter on the soil surface. This not only helps hold the critical top soil in place but also helps with the overall fertility of the soil.

No-till farming practices coupled with soil conservation methods such as terraces and water-ways help to insure that we will never see another Dust Bowl. Not only protecting our soil but our air quality too. Our farmland is not only healthier but more productive than it ever has been and we are striving to improve it everyday.

I also noted that we have improved our native range. Many ranchers are utilizing methods such as rotational grazing to improve the health of our native warm-season grasses. We have a better understanding of the growth patterns of our grasses and we can tailor grazing programs, prescribed burning of those native ranges and herbicides to keep them growing vigorously and free of invasive brush. Our tall grass native prairie in the Flint Hills is a very fragile ecosystem and must be maintained with regular burning and grazing. Our ranchers have an intimate understanding of the ecosystem and work tirelessly to maintain and improve it for our future generations.

The final part of the survey was about climate change. The students looked at me with furrowed brows when I told them I thought it was fairly egotistical of us to think we could change the earth’s climate. Personally I believe everything runs in cycles and we must work with those cycles. However, I am also equally sure that as farmers and ranchers we are doing everything we can to both protect and improve the environment around us.

I am not sure what they thought of my answers. They were very polite and told me they would share the results of the survey with me this fall. What I am sure of is that as I answered their questions, I once again reaffirmed my belief that those of us in agriculture are the ultimate environmentalists. After all we are the stewards of the land who rely on the air, soil and water around us to make a living off of the land and we are the same stewards of the land dedicated to protect it for future generations.