Farms often at war with regulations

The late Dr. Norman Borlaug, a famous plant scientist, once said, “If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.”

He was referring to the fact that when people are hungry, they are also angry and usually do not want to listen until that sense of hunger is satisfied.

Right here in our area of northeastern Ohio, we have some folks that often do not know where their next meal is coming from. We have a number of groups, churches and organizations, as well as government programs, that do an excellent job of helping to reduce or eliminate that uncertainty for the next meal.

At the same time we have an outstanding group of family farms in our area that produce a share of the food that we need. These family farmers are on farms large and small and do a good job of growing their crops and sending quality milk, meat and eggs to market.

In fact, it is the larger family farms, those of 400, 500 acres and more that produce the major amount of food from local farms. That is true across the nation.

Trumbull County, for example, is a county of small farms with an average of about 150 acres. Each one of these farms is important, but a large number of them are part-time or hobby farms. Yes, they contribute to the economy of the area, but the larger farms are where the impact can be seen.

Local family farms do not get the visibility and credit they deserve. They are good managers and careful stewards of the soil, their livestock and the environment.

Some groups keep trying to take issue with accepted, scientific practices used on many of our larger family farms. They don’t understand the time, effort, energy and study these farmers put into the practices used on most farms today.

Environmental groups, animal rights activists or radicals and many government regulations tend to throw roadblocks in the way of farmers as they go about doing a good job. Environmental groups filing unjustified lawsuits against farms for what they say are violations of the Clean Water Act can cause farmers to spend thousands of dollars defending themselves.

One example was out in Maryland, where a poultry farmer had to spend $100,000 to defend themselves against a lawsuit filed by two environmental groups. The courts ruled that the farm had not done anything wrong and was not in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Down in West Virginia, a similar case was noted when the EPA threatened to fine a farm family $37,500 a day for failing to get a Clean Water Act discharge permit for storm water runoff from the farm.

Only after the American Farm Bureau and the West Virginia Farm Bureau got involved, which the EPA strongly opposed, did the EPA decide to withdraw its order. It appeared, according to AFBF, that the EPA did not want to defend its position in court.

What is concerning is that the EPA has not backed away from its position that any amount of pollution on the ground requires a Clean Water Act permit.

What is really of concern about all this harassment of farmers is the potential impact on our food supply. We keep hearing that we will need 50 percent more food by 2040 or 50, yet farmers are faced with a number of roadblocks that make their job much more difficult.

We have the ability and technology to produce the food needed in this world if common sense prevails and farmers are allowed to farm using the best management practices and technology that is available.

Parker is retired from The Ohio State University and is an independent agricultural writer.