Recommendations and Actions
A bewildering array of laws, regulations, and interagency jurisdictions frustrates farmers' efforts to comply with existing environmental and conservation laws and regulations. In pesticide application alone, three federal agencies--Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration--exercise jurisdiction.
The difficulties are compounded for farmers participating in USDA's commodity support and conservation programs. As the price of admission, participants are required to carry out specific environmental and conservation activities planned by USDA. However, as they attempt to comply with various federal programs and some state programs as well, farmers are often confronted with a number of different plans, some of which contain conflicting methods and goals.(1) Successful implementation of each USDA plan does not necessarily satisfy all federal interests. In one case, a farmer won approval from USDA to build a levee. Later he was told by the Army Corps of Engineers, EPA, and the Fish and Wildlife Service to stop construction due to potential destruction to wetlands.(2)
On August 24, 1993, the White House announced comprehensive wetlands policy reforms to simplify the process of identifying wetlands and to provide farmers a simpler method for following federal requirements for wetland conservation. The plan will establish a new, efficient, money- and time-saving administrative appeal process so that farmers and other landowners can seek review of permit decisions without going to court. It will also continue use by all agencies of the 1987 wetlands delineation manual pending completion of a National Academy of Sciences study, expected in 1994, and will impose deadlines and provide additional guidance so that permitting decisions will be made in a timely and more predictable fashion.
In addition, the plan will increase emphasis on state, tribal, and local government roles, as well as voluntary wetlands protection and restoration programs with landowners. It will also reduce duplication and inconsistency for farmers by designating the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) as the lead agency for wetlands determinations on agricultural lands. Furthermore, the plan will withdraw a proposed rule that would have left critical Alaskan wetlands unprotected.
Farmers can be further aided by efforts to simplify compliance with USDA conservation requirements by creating a single plan for each farm. The proposal would consolidate various USDA plans into a single authority administered by the SCS whenever a new plan is required by USDA. The consolidated plan relieves the farmer from dealing with multiple management plans for one farm.
Comprehensive plans, governing all aspects of a producer's farm operations, would go beyond a consolidated plan involving only USDA- required actions. Comprehensive plans would cover conservation of other federal and nonfederal entities. These comprehensive plans would enable SCS to address a farm's conservation requirements as an integrated ecosystem, rather than focusing on isolated fragments of its environment. Neither the Office of Environmental Policy's (OEP's) efforts nor any recent legislative actions fully respond to the complex environmental and conservation concerns associated with agriculture. OEP has not included pesticide use in its water quality task force, and legislative efforts have not dealt with the questions of quality assurance, burden of proof (for compliance), liability for environmental damage, and the ability of SCS to successfully administer the single farm plan concept. Efforts to resolve disputes among federal agencies and to simplify regulations and requirements for farmers will markedly improve the quality of the federal government's service to the agricultural sector, as well as improve environmental quality.
1. The USDA should coordinate federal agencies in assisting producers to implement the consolidated farm management plan. This should include assuring the quality of consolidated farm management plans and compliance.
USDA should phase in the development of the consolidated plans and assist producers in the development of comprehensive, site-specific farm management plans. As a part of the quality assurance mechanism, a partnership between the USDA, EPA, the Corps of Engineers, and the Fish and Wildlife Service should be formed to review a representative sample of the comprehen-sive farm management plans per year. The partnership should identify issues most in need of monitoring, such as water quality. The guidance should be issued by March 1995.
2. The consolidated farm management plan should seek to coordinate with programs administered by other federal agencies and states, in order to create an integrated comprehensive farm management plan. The plan, however, should not override or supersede requirements of other programs.
In addition, compliance with the comprehensive farm management plan does not guarantee full compliance with federal regulations, but eventually USDA should incorporate as many federal standards into the plans as possible. Finally, while USDA should work to incorporate state requirements to create the comprehensive farm management plan, compliance with this comprehensive plan cannot guarantee compliance with state regulations. Also, updates of the plans in response to subsequent changes in nonfederal requirements should not be the responsibility of USDA.
These recommendations will clarify federal jurisdiction over agricultural, environmental, and conservation planning. Furthermore, a consolidated farm management plan will provide better customer service to farmers and encourage greater participation in voluntary conservation programs.
This recommendation is revenue neutral when phased in.
1. For example, a farmer who rents farm land in Virginia and Maryland must produce 64 different conservation plans and expects more plans to be required in the future. Southeast Farm Press (March 17, 1993), p. 43.
2. U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Agriculture, testimony of T. Ray Chancey, American Agriculture Movement, April 21, 1993, p. 3.
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