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American farmers "have never felt more challenged or threatened than they do today by the continuous onslaught of regulations and requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency," Wilmer Stoneman, associate director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, told members of Congress at a Sept. 29 Rural America Solutions Group Forum. "It appears that the EPA is intent on being a controlling partner in all farms in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They claim that’s not the case. But regardless of their intent, that will almost certainly be the result of their regulation and pending legislation."
VFBF and the American Farm Bureau Federation have specifically opposed Senate Bill 1816, the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act of 2010, because it would give the EPA unprecedented authority to regulate farm practices and other land and water uses in the six-state bay watershed.
"It appears that agriculture is facing the tip of EPA’s spear, and we frankly don’t understand why," Stoneman told forum participants. "If you look at agriculture today, our environmental footprint is much smaller than it was years and decades ago—and it’s far smaller than in virtually every other nation in the world. And yet the policies EPA is promoting encourage the outsource of more of our food production. Our use of crop inputs is declining.
"No-till farming has lessened soil erosion and stored carbon in the soil. We produce more milk today from far fewer cows. Nitrogen use efficiencies in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have consistently improved. The agriculture track record is one everyone should be proud of. Unfortunately, it’s not enough for EPA."
Stoneman called the impact of further EPA regulation and potentially unfunded federal mandates "staggering" for U.S. farmers, particularly those with small and medium-size operations.
"To cope, we have three choices: Go into niche markets; get bigger in order to absorb higher regulatory costs; or choose another way of life. The reality is that smaller local farms face a heightened risk of going out of business."
Farm Bureau also was represented at a Sept. 23 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the impact of current and proposed EPA regulations. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., was sympathetic.
"Farmers and ranchers do not have an army of environmental engineers, lawyers and regulatory compliance specialists on their speed dial," Lincoln said. "Compliance obligations that may seem simple to a career bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., are often complex, ambiguous and, in the end, leave farmers and ranchers feeling tremendously uncertain and exposed to steep fines they simply cannot afford."
Lincoln further urged senators to consider that, "at a time when every American feels anxious about his or her own economic future and the economic future of the country, our farmers, ranchers and foresters are facing, as I count them, at least 10 new regulatory requirements."
Contact Stoneman at 804-290-1024.
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