Protect Your Yard. Ditch The Rule!

September 29, 2014

EPA Waters of the U.S.When my husband and I bought our home in Ankeny a few months ago, one feature that stuck out was the home’s expansive back yard for our dogs and the opportunity to grow various trees and flowers.

However, since the backyard has a slight slope, rain water pools at the bottom of that slope along our fence. Our dogs like to splash and play in that standing water, chasing neighbor dogs along that fence. That water saturates the ground and creates a mud bath for our pups, but causes no harm. Or does it?

A proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has me wondering about that 15 feet of space along our chain link fence.

According to the Clean Water Act, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court, the EPA has authority to regulate “navigable” water –water that floats a boat – and significant waters which support the navigable waters. But EPA has proposed a rule that would define the agency’s jurisdiction much more broadly—to also include land that could channelize or retain water for a period of time—like the puddle in my backyard and the ditches along our highways.

The proposed rule brings forth a myriad of concerns and questions.

Could I be forced to obtain a permit every time I want to mow along that fence line when that area dries after the storm? After all, depositing “biological materials” is considered to be a “pollutant” under the Clean Water Act. What about when I want to aerate my lawn and seed those areas? Would I need permits for those actions, too?

Yes, it sounds crazy. I would never be able to maneuver a boat in that puddle. Nor would I ever want to float a boat in a road ditch.

This proposal goes way beyond what Congress intended, and it also threatens my family’s farm in northeast Iowa. The proposal means farmers would likely have to obtain a federal permit for conservation practices like terraces , grassed waterways or fences, and for fertilizer application. These actions, the EPA and the Army Corps says, could cause a discharge into the regulated waters.

Now think about the farmers, like my parents and my brother, who rely on the land for their livelihood. This proposed rule would create a mountain of paperwork, additional cost for consultants to help navigate the bureaucracy and would stifle their attempts at improving the land.

For Iowa’s sake, for our nation’s sake, it’s time to tell the EPA to ditch this rule. The EPA is taking comments of the proposed water rule through October 20. For more information about the rule, and how to make comments, go to Iowa Farm Bureau’s website on the rule.

By Bethany Baratta. Bethany is Iowa Farm Bureau’s commodities writer.

2 maps that will raise your eyebrows

September 25, 2014

Two people can look at the same backyard and see completely different things.

You probably look at yours and see…well, a yard – with grass, maybe a fence, a swing set, flowers, mulch, landscaping timbers, slopes, and areas that puddle after a good rain (here’s a look at my yard after a series of storms earlier this year).

What if I told you the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sees “ephemeral” or “intermittent” streams or “hydric” soils that could require you to obtain a federal permit (costing tens of thousands of dollars) to work in your own yard?

You’d probably wave me off; dismiss me as a fearmonger.

But then I’d show you these babies…

Iowa's streams and water bodies

This is a map of all streams, rivers, and lakes in Iowa, defined by the federal government. Of course, the federal government defines streams differently than you or me. For example, that low area, ditch, or small channel in your backyard may be classified as an “intermittent” or “ephemeral” (i.e. lasting a short time) stream.

EPA has proposed a new water rule that lists these streams, rivers and lakes under the agency’s jurisdiction. In fact, EPA provided this same map to Congress to help explain what could be covered by its proposed rule!

And there’s more…

Iowa's hydric soils

This map shows the soil is Iowa that’s classified as “hydric” soil – soil formed under saturated conditions that tends to pond or drain slowly. EPA’s rule says the agency may regulate hydric soils as well, bringing the areas in green under EPA’s jurisdiction.

So why does it matter if your property falls under the jurisdiction of EPA?

Truthfully, it may not.

EPA can exercise its authority over its jurisdiction if and when it wants. The agency’s leaders say they have no desire to fine your backyard or farm (up to $37,500 per day) or require you to get a permit.

Unlock the door, they say. We’re not coming in.

(Of course that begs the question – why propose such broad jurisdiction in the first place?)

And while I trust that EPA’s spokespeople are genuine, I know they won’t be the ones trying to interpret the vague rule during an actual inspection. And I’m curious if the next wave of EPA workers who inherit this rule will honor EPA’s “gentlemen’s agreement” not to regulate yards and farms, or if they’ll read and enforce the written word differently.

If the latter is true, you may not be able to weed and feed your lawn, spray for bugs, landscape with treated lumber and wood chips, fill in a low area with soil, or even dig a hole without a “dredge and fill” or “NPDES” permit.

It’s a door that’s not worth opening. If you feel the same way, learn more and urge EPA to “Ditch The Rule”!

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

Lessons learned in the county fair “classroom”

September 24, 2014

Twins, county fair, sheepSchool is back in session, and while it probably took a few weeks for students and teachers to readjust to the classroom setting, I’d like to think Iowa’s students returned a little wiser this fall.

That’s because summer isn’t just “break” season, it’s also county fair season – an opportunity for Iowa’s students (and adults) to gain hands-on learning in a new environment.

I attended three different county fairs this summer (and the Iowa State Fair), and it took me back to the days when I exhibited 4-H projects at the Buchanan County Fair in Independence, where I also showed rabbits and pigs.

While I was successful in the show ring, it was the lessons raising and showing my animals that were worth far more than the premium money attached to the ribbons and helped me understand more about my farming parents. Here are a few of the lessons I learned:

  1. Animal care: Though my parents had been raising livestock for several years, this was my chance to learn how to successfully raise my animals. I learned that exceptional care was important, not only because it meant a better pig for the judge, but more importantly because it would enter the food chain after the fair.
  2. Working hard: It took a lot of time to raise my animals and prepare them for the show ring. The work didn’t stop when the fair was over, either. On my parents’ wean-to-finish pig farm, the chores continued. I still had about 30 other rabbits in the barn that required my care, too. My parents continue to raise pigs on that farm, and their work doesn’t end when one load of pigs gets sent to market. The process continues with cleaning the barn, providing feed, water, shelter, and a safe, healthy environment for their pigs. And that’s 365 days a year, not just during fair season or for a little while.
  3. Responsibility: The rabbits and pigs that were a part of my 4-H projects relied on me for feed, water, and a clean living environment. It was up to me to learn how to manage my time and responsibilities with school, work, and sports to ensure the animals’ needs were met. Today, livestock farmers like my parents continue to take on the responsibilities of caring for their pigs. And they do it knowing that every decision they make affects our food supply-something they take very seriously.
  4. Fiscal responsibility: In order to earn money through a 4-H livestock project, I needed to learn the costs of raising my animals for the fair. The costs of feed, bedding, medicine (if needed) were all a part of the budget. When my pigs were sold at the end of the fair during a live auction, I relied on the auctioneer and the auction’s customers to bring the best price. Balancing a budget is an important skill I learned early on as a young 4-H member.
  5. Winning isn’t everything: Perhaps one of the most difficult things about showing was placing dead last in a class. But it was the encouragement from my parents and others that taught me to pick myself up, dust myself off, stay positive, and keep working hard. And those same people, and others, continue to encourage me today, outside of the show ring. My parents know that markets are volatile. Though they do their best to lock in feed and prices for their pigs, they don’t always get the highest prices for their animals or the lowest feed prices for their feed ration. But they persevere, like other livestock farmers, and work hard to supply the world with safe, healthy pork.

I learned these lessons about agriculture and life in the county fair “classroom”. The same courses or lessons are still being taught today, and each 4-H member and exhibitor are learning the course material through different experiences. And that’s the best summer school available.

Student, county fair

Student, pig, county fairStudent washing cow, county fair

Story by Bethany Baratta. Bethany is a commodities writer for Iowa Farm Bureau.

Photos by Gary Fandel. Gary is a photographer and writer for Iowa Farm Bureau.

Iowa benefits from the state’s agricultural balance

September 16, 2014

As all good drivers know, balance is important when you are headed for a rough patch. And balance is what Iowa agriculture has, thanks to its robust livestock sector to go with legendary crop production muscle. It’s good for farmers, it’s good for rural communities and it’s good for the whole state of Iowa, which relies heavily on farming for jobs, tax revenues and economic vitality.

pigs910A recent report showed that livestock in Iowa added $31.6 billion to Iowa’s economy and is responsible for nearly 123,000 jobs. That’s not loose change. And interestingly, the balance of crops and livestock is something that not a lot of other states can claim, even here in the Midwest.

It’s no secret that farming in Iowa and around the country is headed for a rougher economic patch. The big reason: falling prices for corn and soybeans as big crops promise to fill bins and more than satisfy demand from local, national and international buyers. Lower crop income is bound to be tough on the Midwest state economies, which have benefited from the strong earnings in agriculture during the past five years or so.

Still, a recent government forecast highlighted the fact that strong livestock returns will buffer the farm income decline.eggs

That means Iowa, which leads the country in pork and egg production, should fare better than its neighbors. In addition, a vibrant livestock sector creates more business for Iowa’s Main Streets because livestock farmers tend to buy more of their supplies close to home. And, because livestock is more labor intensive than crop farming, it creates more jobs and builds the tax base.

Livestock vitality is not universal in the Midwest. Other states have seen their livestock sectors decline over the decades and have come to rely more heavily on crops. A good example is across the Mississippi River in Illinois.

cattle shadeDon’t get me wrong, Illinois is a tremendous agriculture state with terrific soils and farmers. It can rival Iowa in corn production and often vies with Iowa as the top soybean state.

But the Land of Lincoln, with far fewer hogs, chickens and cattle, just can’t match Iowa’s chops in livestock production.

A big difference has been Iowa’s approach to livestock regulation. Unlike many other Midwestern states, Iowa regulators have worked with farmers to create regulations that protect the environment, but take into account the daily operational demands of a farm. And Iowa livestock farmers are continually working to find ways to do things better for the environment, their neighbors and their communities. Here are some good examples.

Yes, the economic road is bound to get tougher for agriculture and Midwestern state economies. And in those times, Iowa’s balance is a very good thing.

 Written by Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau Federation news services manager and editor of the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.



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