Dear EPA: Does my backyard belong to you?

July 17, 2014

When my wife and I bought our home a couple years ago, we envisioned a backyard for kids and dogs – a fence, a swing set, and a nice lawn.

A new proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has me looking at our yard differently.

According to the Clean Water Act, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court, EPA has authority to regulate “navigable” water – you know, water that floats a boat. But EPA has proposed a rule that would define the agency’s jurisdiction much more broadly – to also include land that could potentially retain water for any period of time (e.g. puddles and ditches).

That’s a problem.

You see, in addition to the fence, swing set, and lawn, my backyard also features a low-lying area that collects waters and channels it away from the yard a couple times a year – minutes or hours after a series of major storms.

Will EPA regulate the water in my backyard?

It looks just like the rest of my yard 364-plus days out of the year.

Will EPA regulate my backyard?

But it does meet my layman’s definition of occasionally retaining water. So I’m wondering – does it belong to me or EPA?

If my yard “belongs” (i.e. is under the authority of) EPA, does that mean I’d have to obtain a permit to construct a fence, spray weeds, or build a swing set? Would I be subject to a penalty if I didn’t?

It sounds far-fetched, right? Why would EPA want to nose around my backyard and issue fines?

I’m not saying they will – of course, I’m hopeful they won’t. I’d like to believe EPA when they say they’re only trying to enact a rule that “clarifies” the requirements for farmers and other landowners. Unfortunately, the written rule delivers a foggy message.

And before you write this off as my personal problem, think of other land and structures in Iowa that are typically dry, but may retain water after a series of storms. It shouldn’t be too hard to think of examples after all of the rain we’ve received this summer.

You may doubt that EPA will assess fines in many of these instances, but do you really want to grant the agency new, expansive authority to do so?

EPA is accepting comments on its proposed rule through October 20. Learn more about the proposal and how you can comment on it here.

By Zach Bader . Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Online Community Manager.


Iowans witness China’s changing tastes in mega mall

July 16, 2014

Nineteen Iowa farmers and a couple Farm Bureau staff members recently participated in Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s (IFBF) 12-day International Market Study Tour to China. In China, participants learned about Chinese culture, as well as opportunities and challenges for Iowa agricultural products.

Iowans at Eurasia mall in China

Iowans visit the Eurasia mall in Changchun, China

One of the goals of the just completed IFBF International Market Study Tour to China was to gauge changing consumer habits in the world’s most populous country. We wanted to get a feel for how buying habits will change as China’s economy continues to expand, more people move to cities and citizens demand better stuff.

The Iowans’ visit to a mall in northeast China provided a pretty good glimpse of that.

The Eurasia mall in the city of Changchun in northeast China is ginormous, covering come 600,000 square meters or nearly 6.5 million square feet. By comparison the Mall of America in Minnesota’s Twin Cities in relatively puny, coming in at less than 5 million square feet.

Everything is big about this Chinese mall, which opened in 2000. It has 10,000 store fronts. Some 30,000 people work there and they help rack up total gross sales of approximately $20 billion per year for the mall.

The Eurasia had everything Americans would expect to see in a mall, and a lot more.

One entire floor was dedicated exclusively to furniture, every imaginable style of it, to appeal to China’s growing affluence and the government’s rush toward urbanization. The furniture selection is so vast that the mall’s management piled the Iowans into electric ATVs to drive the visitors up and down the halls to get a good look at it. It really was too far to walk.

Iowans visit Eurasia mall

Another interesting area for all of us Iowans was the supermarket on the first floor. It almost felt as if we all had been teleported to a supermarket in suburban America as we walked through brightly lit aisles chock full of packaged foods, fresh produce and dairy products.

Iowa farmer in Chinese supermarket

Roslea Johnson checks out Eurasia mall’s supermarket

It provided evidence that China’s growing middle class is starting to shop more like westerners, a trend that has clearly been accelerated by a string of food safety scandals in China.

But perhaps the most curious part of Eurasia mall was the top floor. There was every type of entertainment up there, from an IMAX theater, to bumper cars to a golf driving range. There was also an area where kids could study careers, earn pretend money and then spend it to help them learn how to be better and more demanding consumers.

And when people in a country the size of China start to spend more and demand better food and other products, the effects are going to be felt all the way to Iowa, and everywhere else in between.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau’s News Services Manager.


Chinese Admire, Seek to Emulate Iowa’s Family Farm Tradition

July 15, 2014
Farmer Yaohui Xue of China's Jilin province

Farmer Yaohui Xue of China’s Jilin province speaks with participants in Iowa Farm Bureau’s International Market Study Tour.

Nineteen Iowa farmers and a couple Farm Bureau staff members recently participated in Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s (IFBF) 12-day International Market Study Tour to China. In China, participants learned about Chinese culture, as well as opportunities and challenges for Iowa agricultural products. Stayed tuned to Farm Fresh for more stories about their trip!

Iowans next month will celebrate the state’s Century and Heritage Farms (farms that have been in one family for 100 and 150 years, respectively).  That strong tradition of generation after generation working to build farms and improve the land is the foundation of Iowa’s strength.

It is also the envy of Chinese agriculture officials, participants in IFBF’s recent International Market Study Tour learned.

Agricultural reform is priority one for China’s government, to help feed the country’s large and more urban population. And several Chinese agricultural officials told the Iowans that they dream of a day when China has a system of family farms which attracts young people back to the farm to carry on the tradition.

“We want to start a new era in China, an era of family farms,” Tiezhu He, an official with the agricultural department of Hebei province, told the Iowa farmers during a seminar in Shijiazhuang, the sister city of Des Moines. “We are so impressed that you have strong farms in Iowa that are passed down from generation to generation. We think it could be a big part of adding to our food production.”

The Chinese ag officials also said they believe that family farms, like those in the United States, are better for caring for and improving the land. “If a father is planning to pass the farm down to his sons or daughters, he wants to improve it and make it better,” said He.

China, the country’s ag officials readily acknowledged, still has a long, long way to go to reform its farming systems and meet the country’s growing and changing food needs. And emulating the family farms of Iowa is a very good place to focus.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau’s News Services Manager.


Iowans Introduced to “Old Friends” in Hebei, China

July 7, 2014

Nineteen Iowa farmers and a couple Farm Bureau staff members departed for China on June 30, to participate in Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s (IFBF) second International Market Study Tour. In China, participants are learning about Chinese culture and opportunities and challenges for Iowa agricultural products. Stayed tuned to Farm Fresh for updates on their 12-day trip!

Iowa farmers share Iowa State shirt with Chinese agricultural official

Iowans Mark Kerndt and Dave Miller present Wang Hui Jun (an official with the agricultural university in Hebei, China) with an Iowa State University t-shirt.

In China there’s a saying that goes something like: a friend is always a friend, no matter how far away. And the Iowans touring China this month on Iowa Farm Bureau’s International Market Study Tour found that to be very true.

Since the Iowa study group left Beijing and headed to Hebei, Iowa’s sister state and a big agricultural center, they’ve been treated like old and dear friends. The Iowans’ tour bus has been escorted by black sedans everywhere as it navigates China’s busy roads. At each visit in Hebei several provincial officials are standing by to answer questions and make sure visitors are comfortable. And then there are the banquets.

For all three nights of their stay in Hebei, the IFBF group was treated to banquets by local provincial officials. Toasts were toasted, speeches were given and gifts were exchanged.

The Iowa-Hebei relationship is indeed long and special. They have been sister states for more than 30 years, and Hebei officials have made numerous visits to Iowa, and vice versa.

Add to that the special feeling China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, feels for Iowa. The president of the world’s most populous country visited Iowa to study agriculture as a young man and was truly moved by the state’s hospitality to him and his colleagues.

In speeches and endless toasts that the IFBF study group has been treated to on their visit to China, the special relationship between Iowa and Hebei is always highlighted, as is President Xi’s fondness for the Hawkeye State and some other key facts. One speech even mentioned the importance of the Iowa caucuses to the elections of the U.S. president every four years.

Although only a handful of the Iowans visiting China on the IFBF study tour have ever visited China, it does seem like we are all old friends reuniting.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau’s News Services Manager.


China’s History & Culture Help Iowa Farmers Understand Trade Issues

July 3, 2014

Nineteen Iowa farmers and a couple Farm Bureau staff members departed for China on June 30, to participate in Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s (IFBF) second International Market Study Tour. In China, participants are learning about Chinese culture and opportunities and challenges for Iowa agricultural products. Stayed tuned to Farm Fresh for more updates on their 12-day trip!

Iowa farmers visit Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China

Iowa farmers visit Tiananmen Square

When your mission is to study China’s potential to increase imports of major Iowa ag products–soybeans, pork, corn and others—it’s critical to get a good feel for the country’s history and culture. It’s important, for example, to understand why the Chinese are so intent on maintaining food security and why a rapidly urbanizing society holds so tightly to its rural roots.

A great place to start your research on Chinese culture is Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City, as well as the Great Wall, one of the world’s great wonders in mountains outside the capital city.

So that’s where members of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation China study tour headed after a couple of half-day seminars to learn about Chinese agriculture, future buying trends and trade issues.

For many of us used to rural Iowa, it was almost overwhelming to experience the size of the crowds at the top tourist sites in the world’s most populous county. And, I confess, I lost track of the various Chinese dynasties and the reigns of various emperors that our tour guide carefully explained. But you couldn’t help but be impressed by the size and scale of the Chinese monument, which represented thousands of years of history compared to Iowa’s, at well under 200.

Yet learning about China’s struggles to defend itself against invaders, survive wars, famine and disastrous government policies, helps you understand how that country views the world. It’s also a clear indication why the Chinese are reluctant to jettison their often-inefficient agriculture to rely more heavily on the United States and other exporters for their food needs.

Trade is vital part of Iowa agriculture. But, as the IFBF group found early in their China visit, it can’t be done in a vacuum. Visiting and learning about your customer is essential.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau’s News Services Manager.

Iowa farmers visit the Great Wall of China

Farm Bureau members Hilary Lanman and Darren Luers take a break from their hike on the Great Wall of China.


Could farming in western Iowa require a permit?

July 2, 2014

As of late last week, northwest Iowa was averaging 8 to 14 inches of June rainfall, two to three times normal amounts in that area.

“I’ve planted twice now. The third time would be for beans, if I can get them in by July,” said one area farmer.

June has been unkind (and in some cases, devastating) to those living in flooded and storm-struck areas of our state.

Here’s a look at some of the damage to western Iowa farm fields.

corn field in northwest Iowasoybeans in northwest Iowa

Could it get much worse? In a word, yes.

A rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could fine our neighbors for their misfortune.

To summarize, EPA currently has authority to regulate “navigable” waters (e.g. rivers that float boats). However, the agency is proposing changes that would expand its authority to cover any land that could potentially retain water or contribute flow to “navigable” water. That would include puddles, ponds, ditches and other dry land that tends to pool water after a large rain.

What’s so bad about that?

Nothing, if you don’t mind spending thousands of dollars for a permit to do virtually anything (fertilize, control weeds, build a fence, etc.) on land that could eventually pool water.

Of course, you could assume EPA isn’t going to have any interest in snooping around your backyard or field, but that could amount to a $37,500 per day gamble (the cost of violating EPA’s rule).

Learn more about EPA’s proposed rule and how you can comment on it, here.

Or roll the dice…

By Zach Bader . Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Online Community Manager.


Finding Agriculture in the Midst of 30 Million People

July 1, 2014

 

Nineteen Iowa farmers and a couple Farm Bureau staff members departed for China on June 30, to participate in Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s (IFBF) second International Market Study Tour. In China, participants are learning about Chinese culture and opportunities and challenges for Iowa agricultural products. Stayed tuned to Farm Fresh for more updates on their 12-day trip!

Beijing produce market

Iowa farmers Heidi Gansen and George Beardmore learn about Chinese produce in one of Beijing’s largest markets.

Even in a city of 30 million people, there’s still a place to find a bit of agriculture. And that’s what participants in Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s (IFBF) International Market Study Tour did on their first day on the ground in Beijing.

After a very long thirteen-and-a-half-hour flight from Detroit, the group headed to one of the largest produce markets in China’s sprawling capital. It was great to see something fresh, after navigating Beijing’s legendary traffic and driving through its infamous smog.

Along the way, the Iowans also got a lesson in quick foot movement, after learning that drivers in Beijing seldom brake for pedestrians in crosswalks.

At the produce market, where foods were brought in from the countryside for distribution in the city, some of the fruits and vegetables looked familiar to the Iowans: peppers, eggplant and sweetcorn. But others looked very unfamiliar, such as string beans that grew about two feet long and bitter melon, something that looked like a cucumber that has been grown by an alien.

It made for any interesting visit.

 

Beijing security guard

Farmer Larry Alliger shares a light moment with a Beijing security guard

Also interesting was the security guard who followed the Iowa farmers all around the market, and even tried to get some to try a hot pepper. Our guide, Sherry Guan, explained that this market seldom attracts western visitors and the guard probably wanted to make sure the Iowans were treated well.

On to more adventures in China!

China trip participants

Participants in IFBF’s International Market Study Tour to China.

 

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau’s News Services Manager.

 

 

 


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