The Recorder

Taking a stand for agriculture

Farm Side

By Marianne Friers

Just in case you weren’t already going to visit the dairy cow birthing center at the New York State Fair to see baby calves being born, another event is scheduled there that sounds downright cool. On the 4th of September the plan is for hundreds of people to assemble to make a corn-themed arrangement for an aerial photograph.

Called Human Corn 2017, the arrangement is intended to commemorate New York Corn & Soybean Growers Association long standing member and dedicated director, Bill Jenkins, who passed away earlier this summer. According to the Human Corn website, “Bill provided years and years of experience, enthusiastic volunteering and comic relief to the Association. He exemplified what it means to serve and was passionate that we continue to grow and promote the industry.”

Money raised from tickets to participate and from donations will fund the New York Corn and Soybean Bill Jenkins “Growing the Next Generation” Scholarship, which will be offered to students studying agronomy/crop science beginning in the Fall of 2017.

Patty’s People Pictures will be photographing the event. In the past the company has brought people together for any number of really neat aerial photos of arrangements of folks depicting everything from a gigantic smiley face to a big, blue buffalo.

Registration for the event begins at 10 a.m. on Sept. 4, with the actual assemblage beginning around noon at  the NYCSGA Cow Garden located in conjunction with the NYAAC Dairy Cow Birthing Center at the corner of Belle Isle and Broadway on NYS Fairgrounds.

Participants will receive tee shirts, tickets for a dinner at Baker’s Chicken Coop, and a milk and cookies reception after the photo. Sounds like a lot of fun for a good cause. Ticket prices range from free for kids under five to $25 or $29 dollars for various shirt styles and $20 for NYCSGA members.

The new Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is urging stakeholders to weigh in with official comments on the Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule before the Aug. 28 deadline for doing so, which is next Monday. According to Drovers Magazine, Pruitt said in a video released by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, “When comments are made a part of a record – as rule-making — we have an obligation to review them. It helps inform our decision-making process; it helps us make better decisions. And so we want farmers and ranchers across this country to provide comments.”

These comments were made during Pruitt’s state action tour, during which he traveled across the USA to talk to farmers, ranchers, and business people about the rule and how it might affect them.

4 Traders quoted him as saying, when speaking at Toyota headquarters in Plano, Texas, “We feel like it is important for us to get out, into the states and talk directly with local people and businesses about how EPA regulations affect them. What we are hearing is that people deeply care about the environment and want sensible regulations that allow them to grow their businesses and create local jobs, without unnecessarily and costly regulatory burdens.”

Sadly these potential rule changes will come too late for Northern California farmer, John Duarte, whose plight has been detailed here in the past. Duarte, who tilled fields for wheat that had been planted to that crop in the past, ran afoul of the EPA for doing so in 2012. Just before his case came to trial he decided to simply settle, rather than risk even more astronomical fines than he will be paying. According to the Sacramento Bee, “Duarte agreed to pay $330,000 in fines and another $770,000 in ‘compensatory mitigation,’ according to a settlement agreement reached shortly before proceedings were to begin in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.”

Yeah, WOTUS infringements, real or imagined, won’t come cheap. However, since the EPA was looking for up to $45 million in penalties, Duarte chose to take the best deal he could get by way of settlement. Since this was the case where plowed furrows in a field were said to correlate to “mini mountain ranges,” he had little hope of common sense prevailing.

Along with paying fines that seem ridiculous to me, Duarte will not be permitted to farm the land at all, except for limited cattle grazing. Thus, besides punishing him for ordinary farming activities, the EPA is also taking much of the value of the land he bought and paid for and no doubt pays plenty of taxes upon, with no form of compensation.

You can share your two cents worth on the WOTUS rule via the NCBA website where you will find sample letters to cut and paste, or by directly accessing the EPA site, https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0203-0001.

Of course you can also write your own comments about how this rule could affect your farming, ranching, lawn care, or business operations.

The potential ramifications of this settlement are worrisome. Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, told Farm Journal’s AgriTalk radio show, “The government is telling farmers and ranchers they need to ask permission to use their own land if it is anywhere near what the government considers a water of the U.S.” Parrish said that is a chilling result from this case but equally chilling is a new government theory that if plowing leaves furrows it is illegal.

He added that almost no primary tillage would fall outside the rule when interpreted this way.

Imagine what will happen if America’s farmers can no longer prepare their ground for planting. Besides the damage to the farm economy, food would inevitably become significantly more expensive. Farmers who can’t make a living often have to sell their land to mall builders, developers, and others of that ilk. Open ground and green space is lost, usually forever. America loses 40 acres of farmland in this manner every hour.

We can’t afford to up this ante just because Washington bureaucrats like to make rules.

Fultonville dairy farmer Marianne Friers is a regular columnist. She blogs at http://northvilledairy.blogspot.com.