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Published August 22, 2011, 05:04 AM

Farmers concerned about regulation

WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Aug. 18 he agreed with President Obama’s statements Aug. 17 that farmers worried about impending regulation should check to make sure the regulations really are moving forward or are just fears being fed by lobbyists in Washington.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Aug. 18 he agreed with President Obama’s statements Aug. 17 that farmers worried about impending regulation should check to make sure the regulations really are moving forward or are just fears being fed by lobbyists in Washington.

Asked on a call to reporters whether the administration might address concerns farmers had expressed about regulation during Obama’s Midwestern tour, Vilsack said when a farmer asked a related question Aug. 17 in Atkinson, Ill., “the president’s response was right on target.”

When the farmer told Obama that he wanted to start his days driving his tractor, not filling out paperwork. Obama asked the farmer for his specific concerns, and the farmer replied, “We hear what’s coming down about noise pollution, dust pollution, water runoff.”

Obama said, “If you hear something is happening, but it hasn’t happened, don’t always believe what you hear. . . . I’m serious about that. Because a lot of times, what will happen is the folks in Washington — there may be some staff person somewhere that wrote some article or said maybe we should look into something.

“And I’m being perfectly honest, the lobbyists and the associations in Washington, they’ll get all ginned up and they’ll start sending out notices to everybody saying, ‘look what’s coming down the pike.’ And a lot of times, we are going to be applying common sense. And if somebody has an idea — if we don’t think it’s a good idea, if we don’t think that there’s more benefit than cost to it, we’re not going to do it.

“I want to make sure that everybody gets accurate information,” Obama continued. “If you ever have a question as to whether we’re putting something in place that’s going to make it harder for you to farm, contact USDA. Talk to them directly. Find out what it is that you’re concerned about. My suspicion is a lot of times they’re going to be able to answer your questions and it will turn out that some of your fears are unfounded.”

Obama also told the farmer, “Nobody is more interested in seeing our agricultural sector successful than I am, partly because I come from a farm state. And I spent a lot of time thinking about downstate issues as a United States senator.

“And I’m very proud of the track record that we’ve developed,” the president continued. “If you look at what’s been happening in terms of agricultural exports — what’s been happening in terms of agricultural income during the time that I’ve been president of the United States — I think we’ve got a great story to tell. And I want to continue to work with you and other farmers to make sure that we’re doing it in the right way that’s not inhibiting you from being successful.”

Regulating the right way

Farmers and other rural leaders also expressed concern about regulation at the rural economic forum that Obama held in Iowa on Aug. 16 and at other events.

“There was a lot of concern about the dust regulation. Folks got worked up,” Vilsack said.

He noted that EPA was focused on a regulation on coarse material that causes premature death, not fine dust that occurs on farms.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson “has been clear about this,” Vilsack said, adding that he has been with her when she has told commodity groups that.

The situation is the same with the proposed wetlands regulation, he said, noting that EPA is not planning “to regulate ponds or puddles (that may fill up) when there are heavy rains.”

Vilsack said he will continue to work with EPA “to make sure as regulations come out that they make sense.”

He said he also will continue to work with EPA and the Department of Interior on a concept he calls “regulatory certainty.” Under this policy, if farmers are engaged in “a suite of conservation practices,” the farmer will be considered in compliance for a period of time.

Vilsack noted that the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service are using this approach to save habitat for the sage grouse while trying to avoid listing of that bird as an endangered species.

Vilsack said he wants to make sure “people know what is being proposed as compared to what they think is being proposed.”

The Wall Street Journal said in an Aug. 18 editorial that Obama was trying to stifle discussion. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said in a news release that Obama’s statements showed that he was unaware of some of the regulations that his administration is undertaking, such as rewriting the rules governing the packers and stockyards act.

“The fact is this administration is intent on stifling free enterprise by allowing agencies in this administration to propose regulation after regulation without any analysis on the impact on jobs in this country,” said Steve Foglesong, a crop and livestock producer in Astoria, Ill., who is an immediate past president of NCBA. “The president is out of touch with rural America.”

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