Cultivating Relationships on Pennsylvania Avenue

Regardless of your political persuasion, I think we in agriculture can agree that the pendulum of federal regulations has swung too far.

If you were watching some of the post-inauguration festivities on television or social media, you might have seen a strange sight on Pennsylvania Avenue.

After Donald Trump was inaugurated as the nation’s 45th president, the celebration kicked off with an inaugural parade. A tractor brigade participated in the parade, making its way through the streets of our nation’s capital – including past the White House.

Our own American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall was behind the wheel of one of those tractors. And even closer to home, two members of the Pennsylvania FFA State Officer Team were marching in the parade – holding a sign announcing the tractor brigade.

It was a welcome sight for farmers.

And I hope it’s a sign that times are changing in Washington.

Regardless of your political persuasion, I think we in agriculture can agree that the pendulum of federal regulations has swung too far.

We point back to the misguided “waters of the U.S.” rule, commonly referred to as WOTUS, as the standard bearer for overregulation – for good reason.

Although the intentions of protecting water quality and preventing pollution are goals on which farmers and bureaucrats agree, government officials often fail to comprehend the unintended consequences of their plans to meet those goals.

Under the previous administration, the Environmental Protection Agency broadened the agency’s regulatory reach under the Clean Water Act. We believe they worked to skirt the law while extending their jurisdiction far beyond “navigable waters” (think Susquehanna River or the Ohio River) to distant tributaries, seasonal streams and ditches.

While that philosophically may seem like a good idea, the practical on-the-ground reality is far from ideal. Under WOTUS, farmers would need a federal permit to perform even routine tasks, such as treating crops. In addition, farmers could be stuck in limbo waiting for EPA to decide if their land is subject to additional regulations under the rule. An entire growing season could come and go before we receive an answer from EPA, jeopardizing our ability to harvest those fields.

More importantly, farmers do not make land use decisions that result in the loss of our productive soil or contamination of the water that sustains our crops and animals. That would be a poor business decision and fly in the face of the conservation ethic that is ingrained in farm families.

But we in agriculture had a tough time getting anyone in the EPA to understand those practical realities.

That’s why we at Farm Bureau are strongly supporting Scott Pruitt as the next EPA administrator. The attorney general from Oklahoma played a major role in leading the legal fight against the WOTUS rule. We are hopeful that he gets the opportunity to “ditch the rule” as EPA chief and formulate a new water protection rule that works for agriculture.

We are also heartened by the choice of Sonny Perdue to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farm Bureau was fortunate to have a good working relationship with former agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack and we have every expectation that will continue with Sonny Perdue.

Perdue comes from a farm background and is trained as a veterinarian. As a two-term governor of Georgia, he has the experience and prudence to lead a diverse and complex federal agency that is crucial to the success of farm families.

Under Perdue’s leadership, the agency will implement a new Farm Bill that we hope will come to fruition in 2018. Farm Bureau has already started the policy development process around a new Farm Bill – including getting help for our beleaguered dairy farmers – and we will continue to play a large role as the legislation is shaped.

We fully expect Perdue to utilize the skills he developed working on a farm in conjunction with his political experience to lead USDA through these crucial times in agriculture.

As the Trump administration settles in, we are hopeful that the promises of rolling back unneeded regulations, creating a level playing field for businesses and implementing a fairer tax code indeed play out in the months ahead. At the same time, we will work with the administration to ensure our voice is heard on trade and immigration.

Rural America played a crucial role in the last presidential election. Our hope is that rural America stays engaged over the next four years – and that Washington, D.C., listens to voices from the heartland.

Photo: Pattie Calfy/istock