Rick Ebert, President, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau

With two recent decisions involving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or what some of us in the farming community refer to as the Erroneous Perception Agency, it’s hard not to feel like agriculture got dealt a one-two punch.

Despite plenty of public opposition from farmers, builders and local governments, the EPA now has implemented a new regulation that gives the agency sweeping authority under the Clean Water Act. Meanwhile, Farm Bureau lost its appeal of the EPA’s heavy-handed and inflexible plan for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Both of those actions create a raft of uncertainty.

From the beginning, Farm Bureau has been vocal in stating that the ill-conceived “waters of the U.S.” rule (also referred to as WOTUS) does nothing to clarify federal authority under the Clean Water Act. Instead, it now calls into question whether farmers will need permits for crop spraying or applying nutrients. It also creates uncertainty over whether every divot, seep, ditch and low spot in our fields is now considered a federally controlled waterway. This rule could have adverse ramifications for farms of all sizes in every state across the nation. The notion of regulating dry land as “water” will play out in Congress and in the courts, where EPA’s final WOTUS rule will be challenged.

Turning to the Appeals Court decision, we believe the court failed to recognize how EPA overstepped its authority in setting specific goals and timetables that state’s must meet as part of the Bay cleanup plan. And we know for a fact that EPA’s computer model fails to credit agriculture for the extensive efforts it has already taken to protect our water and soil.

Yes, agriculture got dealt two pretty tough blows. But this is not unlike difficult weather or challenging market forces. Farmers get up early and ready to work every day because it is our calling; we believe it is a noble vocation and we know darn well that we are doing all that we can to act as good stewards of our environment.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding EPA’s actions, I encourage all farmers to keep doing the good work they are doing in growing food and taking care of their land.

While I, and many others, believe Pennsylvania farmers are clearly doing our fair share in making positive environmental impacts, there is one area where we need to invest more time and more energy… and that is telling our story. Farmers have had their concerns marginalized and been inaccurately portrayed by EPA and its minions, especially throughout the WOTUS discussion.

Clearly, the Environmental Protection Agency believes that if it does not have control, then an area is unregulated. I firmly believe the top brass at EPA has little comprehension of what it takes to run a farm… let alone understand the state and local oversight that occurs on our farms.

We may never change the opinions of the unelected bureaucrats, but we can influence the court of public opinion.

There’s a marketing slogan that’s been around for a while: “Know your farmer, know your food.” That concept got its start at farmers markets, which makes sense for those who are selling products directly to the public. But even farmers who don’t have the opportunity to shake hands with the people who buy their products still need to tell their story.

Regardless of their age, commodity or role on the farm, we as farmers must help the general public understand who we are and what we do. There are plenty of opportunities for casual conversations with consumers and various forms of social media are opening new doors to reach a wide range of people.

Farmers also need to consider the role they can play in local communities. It’s not only an opportunity to look out for the interests of agriculture, but also to inform those who know little about farming challenges. Although it can be difficult to set aside additional time in their busy everyday lives to serve in local offices, most farmers agree it is time well spent.

While farmers continue to put their own time and money into implementing best management practices on their land to further reduce runoff and improve the environment, they continue to hear from EPA that they haven’t done enough. In contrast, state and local governments are working together with farmers to improve water quality, while still allowing farmers to farm.

It appears that EPA would be much happier if farmers stopped growing food and simply planted trees and grass on their land instead.