Earlier this fall I had the privilege to ride in the combine with the young farmer who rents the small piece of land in front of our home. We talked about yields and commodity prices, but one of the top of mind concerns for this farmer and many others is the increasing amount of regulations impacting his ability to farm.
Farmers are overwhelmingly concerned about regulations impacting their farms. It may be the one issue impacting agriculture where one candidate stands starkly contrasted to the other.
He made the comment about how if he wanted to make any changes to this small parcel of land, he may have to decipher through 20 different regulations on what he can and can’t do. That may be an exaggeration, but it does prove that regulations are on ongoing burden to farmers today. The many government agencies have made a mess out of many things that impact farmers, and it is becoming increasingly burdensome.
Farmers and ranchers overwhelmingly are concerned about federal regulatory policies across party lines, geography, age and farm size. According to the latest Agri-Pulse Farm and Ranch Poll, over 70% of those surveyed said that regulatory policies are on the wrong track – up from 66% in January. Nationally, over three-quarters of respondents in the 25-34 age group agreed that things were on the wrong track.
The question is whether a new administration will offer any viable solutions to turn the tide on a tsunami of different regulations impacting agriculture.
In response to questions posed by Penton Agriculture, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said the nation’s regulatory system is “completely broken.” He added, “Whether through excessive land use restrictions that impact farmers and ranchers, environmental requirements that impose enormous costs on farmers or overreaching food product regulations, federal regulatory burdens have increased dramatically in recent years. This must change.”
Trump noted that, in many instances, extreme environmental groups have more influence in setting regulations than the farmers and ranchers who are directly affected by the regulations. “There will be no more ‘sue and settle’ deals with extreme environmentalists,” Trump’s response said.
Speaking at a Farm Foundation Forum, Trump’s top agriculture advisor, Sam Clovis, said the Trump camp has heard concerns from ranchers in the western U.S. about the many agencies that have overlapping and conflicting regulations. He mentioned the conflict between the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish & Wildlife Service, as well as the EPA, U.S. Department of Commerce and others whose rules and laws aren’all t compatible with one another.
He said Trump would try to get the agencies back to their mission space and “find ways to get people out of others’ lanes” when that creates conflicts in laws and their enforcement. By reviewing different department missions, Trump would then take proposed changes to Congress for an up or down vote.
Clovis said regionalizing regulatory packages also offers helpful solutions. For instance, he noted that the average cattle operation size in Ohio is 16 head, while one in Nebraska it may be 3,000 head. He said while some regulations should be common between the two, such as controlling runoff, other aspects of regulatory enforcement may be different based on climatology, geology or terrain.
In the 13 western states, the federal government owns more than 20% of the land. In Utah, the federal government owns more than 60% of the state's land. “Those 13 states probably ought to have their own set of rules” when it comes to land management issues, Clovis said.
Clovis also encouraged a shift in decision-making on wildlife and indigenous species to the state and local government levels as possible. “The Fish & Wildlife Services can help as a facilitator and help in cooperation,” Clovis said. “States have the best handle on fisheries and wildlife habitats.”
Former U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary Kathleen Merrigan, who is now a professor and director of the Food Institute at George Washington University, spoke on behalf of the campaign for Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She noted that multi-state solutions are working, citing the ongoing efforts to improve the Chesapeake Bay watershed basin. She also gave praise to groups such as the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and said close working relationships with state leaders are needed.
Merrigan shared the importance of regulations ranging from biotechnology to marketing systems to organic industry standards. “The anti-regulatory drumbeat is not helpful as we need to be more calibrated in our discussion,” she said, adding that regulation, in and of itself, is "not a bad thing. It levels the playing field and builds trust and confidence with the American public.”
Merrigan challenged that in order to make government smarter, there needs to be someone in the Oval Office who already knows how government works and with the right skill set and temperament — and “Clinton is the person for that job.”
In responding to the same questionnaire on farmers’ concerns about current costs and the negative effects of overregulation, Clinton’s team said Clinton would “always engage a wide range of stakeholders, including farmers and ranchers, to hear their concerns and ideas for how we can ensure our rural communities and our agriculture sector remain vibrant. If there are implementation challenges with a particular regulation, Hillary will work with all stakeholders to address them.”
Trump offered a more proactive approach, saying he will increase transparency and accountability in the regulatory process. “Rational cost/benefit tests will be used to ensure that any regulation is justified before it is adopted. Unjustified regulations that are bad for American farmers and consumers will be changed or repealed,” he said.
Biogenic carbon dioxide emissions which come from the natural carbon cycle is the new way EPA is considering to regulate farming practices, and has many agricultural groups concerned, shared Gary Baise of OFW Law. “EPA believes it can count and control with regulations emissions from the natural carbon cycle resulting from harvest of crops, combustion, decomposition of manure and CO2 derived from burning agriculture derived feedstocks. Note that EPA wants to regulate what is happening in the farm field,” he said.
“A Clinton Administration will certainly move this idea forward,” Baise warned. “It is critical for agriculture that Mr. Trump win.”