By Kyle Sharp
For the past several years, my brother Scott and I have planted some acreage with oats in August after wheat was harvested from the fields he rents from my dad. The idea came from the work done several years ago by Stan Smith. with Ohio State University Extension in Fairfield County, and Bob Hendershot, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) state grassland specialist who is also based in Fairfield County, and others who showed that oats planted in this fashion could be harvested for hay in the late fall or grazed over the winter.
We tend to make hay out of them, although the challenge is getting the fields dry enough to mow, rake and bale, along with having enough warm, dry weather to get the oat hay dry enough at all. While we still struggled this past fall with getting the mowed oats dry enough for baling, we had no problem with the field being too wet to drive the tractors through. As most of you are aware, the last part of the summer and fall were quite dry in Ohio. This led to early corn and soybean harvests for many people, and plenty of time to harvest oat hay for us.
The only negative thing about the conditions was the dust … lots and lots of dust. As we rolled through the fields while raking and baling, Scott and I could barely see each other through the clouds of dust billowing up around our tractors. I was regularly using water to swish the dust out of my mouth, and when we were finished, we looked like we’d just emerged from a multiple-day journey across the Sahara Desert.
We just considered this a bit of an annoyance. After all, it’s not like dust is a rarity on a farm. However, several years from now, if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has its way, we just might be breaking some sort of environmental regulation by making oat hay the way we did this past fall. It seems the EPA, never at the top of the popularity list among American farmers, has turned things up a notch recently, and the result could be increased costs, piles of paperwork and restrictions on previously common practices for those involved in agriculture.
That’s why the delegates at the American Farm Bureau Federation in January urged Congress to “pursue vigorous oversight” of the agency. They cited a recent expansion in EPA regulatory actions aimed at agriculture that ignores farmers’ and ranchers’ “positive contributions to environmental protection.”
In approving the “sense of the delegate body” resolution, the Farm Bureau delegates said “congressional action is necessary to restore commonsense to environmental regulation on our farms.” EPA, they said, is limiting the use of private property, “encroaching on state land use and water quality planning efforts,” and impeding economic growth.
To change those regulatory trends, the delegates urged Congress to assess the impact EPA’s actions have had on agriculture, conduct a “critical examination of how the agency uses science” and “determine an adequate budget for necessary agency activities.”
Congress must have been listening, because in February the U.S. House passed three amendments to H.R. 1, legislation to fund the federal government through the end of this fiscal year, that if passed by the Senate will block the EPA’s funding to regulate dust and implement its Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) rule for the Chesapeake Bay and its nutrient criteria rule for Florida.
“I hope the activists turned government officials at the EPA were listening to the very clear signal sent by the U.S. House of Representatives that enough is enough. Our elected leaders are growing weary of defending this agency that appears to be determined to put farmers and ranchers out of business,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President of Government Affairs Colin Woodall. “Burdensome, job stifling regulations are never a good thing. But when you have a struggling economy on the verge of a rebound, government overreach is definitely not a way to stimulate job growth and economic recovery.”
Representatives Kristi Noem (R-South Dakota), Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) and Tom Rooney (R-Florida) led the charge.
“As a cattle rancher, Rep. Noem understands that dust is a part of farming and ranching. It seems like a no-brainer but apparently EPA officials haven’t stepped off the city sidewalks lately. We are thankful Rep. Noem’s commonsense and knowledge of the agricultural industry prevailed in the House over attempts to regulate family farmers and ranchers out of business,” Woodall said. “Regulating dust on a farm or ranch is like regulating flour in a bakery. Quite simply, it is ridiculous. Almost every farm and ranch in the country would be found noncompliant for going about their everyday activities ranging from driving a truck on a gravel road or moving cattle from one lot to the next. We all need to stop and question EPA’s motives since it is well known that scientific studies have never shown, whatsoever, that agricultural dust at ambient levels causes health concerns.”
The argument against many of these proposed EPA regulations is questionable science that is either not peer reviewed or conflicts with science done by other government agencies.
“Rep. Goodlatte’s amendment to stop funding for EPA to implement its TMDL rule for the Chesapeake Bay, which is based on flawed scientific assumptions, could also prevent the model from becoming a template for other watersheds. EPA’s data was even proven inaccurate by another agency in the same administration. One would think that contradiction would encourage EPA to take another look,” Woodall said. “Rep. Rooney’s amendment would protect cattle producers in Florida from EPA’s extremely detrimental, scientifically indefensible nutrient criteria rule. Both of these rules, if implemented, will cost cattle producers millions of dollars in compliance costs, financially devastate state economies and erase thousands of jobs.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in favor of rampant disregard for environmental concerns. However, I’m also no fan of regulations where there is no clear need to regulate.