Home > South Dakota > SD Ag Summit Part 3: Environmental and Regulatory Issues

SD Ag Summit Part 3: Environmental and Regulatory Issues

July 9, 2014
Michael Formica, Jeffrey Zimprich & Mike Naig speaking in Deadwood, SD. Photo by Ken Santema

Michael Formica, Jeffrey Zimprich & Mike Naig speaking in Deadwood, SD. Photo by Ken Santema

In my continuing posts about the Governors Agridcultural Summit in Deadwood, South Dakota, it is time to look at the session focusing on environmental and regulatory issues. The three panelists leading this discussion included:

The video of this session can be found here (running time of 1:18:48). In this post I will just pull out a couple of things the panelists had to say I found interesting.

Michael Formica

Formica went right after the EPA. In fact he says the bureaucrats over at the EPA are looking at regulating Ag because it is a good way to expand jobs within the EPA. He went on to say that the job of the EPA is to grow itself. I think that can be said for almost any bureaucracy that has grown too large with little or no actual accountability.

The goal of the EPA and Clean Water Act (CWA) activists, according to Formica, is to make sure “all water is fishable and swimmable”. Originally the CWA only gave power to regulate ‘navigable waters’. Yet over the years the EPA has gone beyond these limitations, and has won court cases to allow wetlands regulations on waters which aren’t navigable. Formica showed how the EPA was able to do this in the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. The move has allowed the EPA to regulate six states in the DC area because of connected waters. The means used by the EPA should be familiar to anyone that follows how the federal government works: if a state isn’t complying with the EPA’s water permit process they will withhold federal dollars from that state.

The big fear going forward is that the EPA is about to do the same with the Mississippi River Basin. Below is a graphic provided by Formica showing how much power such a move would give the EPA.

Graphic provided by the National Pork Producers Council

Graphic provided by the National Pork Producers Council

Looking at this map it is quite clear a huge part of the country (including all of South Dakota) would be impacted. Any wetland that can even remotely said to be connected with the Mississippi would fall under EPA control if they are allowed to regulate the Mississippi River Basin in the same fashion that has been done with Chesapeake Bay. And connected does not appear to be what most would think it means. It would include water that is adjacent, neighboring, or connected via a floodpain (whether or not there is water there or not).

Department of Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack fought hard to have the EPA create exemptions for Ag. When these exemptions were created by the EPA a letter was then sent to the House Ag Committee asking to withdraw the Ag exemptions. These ‘exemptions’ actually made things worse by exposing agricultural activities to lawsuits. The new guidelines also put burdensome soil and permitting requirements upon ag producers. Basically this move would change the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) from a department that works with farmers into enforcement staff for the EPA. That move would likely turn the USDA into an enemy of the agricultural industry.

It should be noted that Formica does work for a special interest group. Taking that into account, I believe it is still worth listening to what he has to say and be very wary of what the EPA has planned in its expansion for more regulatory power over the states.

Jeff Zimprich

Zimprich focused on working with land owners for true soil conservation. He had an interesting presentation showing how rain interacts with tilled and non-tilled soil (if I mess up any language I apologize, the farm I grew up working on in the 80’s was all tilled soil). Zimprich had two soil samples taken out of fields in the same area of the state. The samples are taken as a brick and retain the same structure as if they are still part of that land. An inch of water was then poured over each sample to show the difference of how each soil type handles rainflow. Here  is a picture of the results:

Soil Demonstration by Jeffrey Zimprich in Deadwood. Photo by Ken Santema

Soil Demonstration by Jeffrey Zimprich in Deadwood. Photo by Ken Santema

The soil sample on the left is no-till. The sample on the right is traditional tilled soil. It is interesting to see the difference between the two samples. The tilled soil on the right let very little water down into the soil. Actually most of the rain can be seen running off to the side. The container holding that runoff water also contains enough soil to be noticeable. The no-till sample on the left allowed almost all of the water to be distributed down into the soil. There was very little rain runoff, and what little runoff there was appears to have had no soil erosion.

I think this little demonstration did a good job of showing one reason for modern farmers to look at no-till solutions in their fields. Simultaneously being able to retain more rainfall in the soil and preventing soil erosion is a remarkable advantage of no-till farming. I am not expert on such things, so I would imagine there are many other factors for a farmer to take into account. But I think this demonstration shows there are new technologies and techniques farmers can use to practice good soil conservation without the intervention of federal regulators. Had federal regulators been involved I could be assumed that no-till farming would never have been discovered and used; at least not in the United States.

Mike Naig

Naig made a couple of statements I found relevant. First he said a regulatory approach to watershed strategies simply don’t work. If regulators are involved it will force farmers to do what is needed for compliance; instead of doing what is right for actual true soil conservation. That is a key distinction many bureaucrats fail to understand. There is a huge difference between being ‘in compliance’ and actually being a good steward of the land. I personally believe most farmers truly want to be good stewards of the land. But their motivation to do so will be removed if regulations made it over-burdensome to actually do whats right.

He also stated land owners cannot be forced to follow best practices. Instead land owners must use voluntary adoption of best practices and do so on their own timeline. I agree with this as well. The problem with regulating best practices is that best practices tend to change over time. However the bureaucratic regulations that are built around best practices rarely if ever change. Regulating to today’s best practices may in fact hamper the ability of farmers in the future from doing what is right.

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  1. November 12, 2014 at 8:12 pm
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