IFB explains farmer's 'bureaucratic nightmare' in D.C.

Organization looking for other farmers who have tried to do the right thing through conservation practices but gotten caught in the crossfire of multiple regulatory agencies that want different things.

10-19_Douglas _County 09_15_14

(Illinois Farm Bureau file photo)

By Deana Stroisch

After watching erosion occur in the middle of his fields, an Ogle County farmer decided to implement soil-conservation practices.

The corn and soybean farmer got the green light from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and finished installing the grassed waterways in March. A few months later, staff from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) visited his family’s farm and alleged he violated the Clean Water Act because he didn’t obtain the necessary Section 404 permit.

“This is one farmer caught in a bureaucratic nightmare with three federal agencies who all want something different,” said Lauren Lurkins, Illinois Farm Bureau’s director of natural and environmental resources. “He is not alone. In the last two months, we have heard similar stories from farmers in three of the five Corps districts in Illinois.”

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Lurkins and Adam Nielsen, IFB’s director of national legislation and policy development, took the Ogle County farmer to Washington, D.C., recently to share his story.

The group met with the Corps’ acting assistant secretary and his staff, and staff from NRCS. The group also met with members of Illinois’ congressional delegation – U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Hoffman Estates, and Dick-Durbin, D-Springfield, and Reps. Adam Kinzinger, R-Manteno, and Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville.

“During each visit, congressional staff listened, acknowledged the farmer was motivated to do the right thing and expressed interest in exploring legislative solutions,” Nielsen said.

The Farm Bureau group spelled out its concerns:

- Grassed waterways are scientifically proven to improve water quality and reduce soil waterways. They only carry water following heavy rains and aren’t streams or tributaries subject to the Clean Water Act.

- The grassed waterway was constructed on prior converted cropland, which isn’t included in the definition of a “water of the United States.”

- Conservation practices are included in the definition of “normal farming practices” and remain exempt from Section 404 permitting requirements.

IFB requested a clear and consistent process for resolving these disputes – one that helps farmers improve the environment without fear that an approved action from one agency will result in punishment from another, Lurkins said.

IFB wants to hear from other farmers with stories similar to the Ogle County farmer. Farmers who have received an NRCS wetland determination, moved forward with installing conservation practices and then received a visit from the Corps and/or EPA alleging Clean Water Act violations should contact Lurkins at llurkins@ilfb.org.

IFB also plans to submit comments to the Corps, which, like other federal agencies, requested public input on possible regulatory reforms within its agency. 

Content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.

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