In January, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to visit with numerous representatives from our Colorado congressional delegation and from major farm organizations.
In preparation, I visited with the directors and advisors of the Community Agriculture Alliance and the presidents of some of our Routt County agriculture organizations. I asked for specific examples of the impacts that federal regulations have on local food production, and in particular, regulations that are not backed by legislation. I formulated a “white paper” and went into the halls of Congress with a packet that contained the discussion items, the Vision 2030 report and information about Community Agriculture Alliance and its programs.
It is a treat to visit Washington, regardless of the current dysfunction of our political leaders. The architecture, the history and the dynamics always give me pause to reflect on the basis on which our country was formed. The fact that a common citizen can walk into the Senate and House of Representatives without fear, that we are encouraged to visit our elected officials openly without retribution and that the monuments and museums are open to the public is a tribute to democracy.
But does anyone out there care? While talking to ag people in Routt County, there was a common theme of frustration with our elected officials and the partisan politics of Washington. Being in agriculture is difficult enough without all of the regulations and restrictions imposed by the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, not to mention numerous other departments, agencies and organizations. We are reaching a tipping point of administrative overload, making it discouraging to till ground and raise livestock.
Issues of concern include: relinquishment of agricultural water rights and condemnation of private property for public benefit; reduction of federal leases in either time or animal units; pesticide application rules; fuel spillage rules; dust mitigation; wetland mitigation; the cost and process of obtaining permits; lack of USDA meat processing plants and storage facilities; inconsistent regulations regarding sales at farmers markets and roadside stands; child labor laws; foreign labor laws; non-point and storm water runoff; estate inheritance and capital gain impacts; federal programs that are authorized by Congress without administrative support and training; wildlife reintroduction programs; urban sprawl; and protection of traditional agriculture lands.
I met with legislative aides, legislative assistants and rural policy directors in the offices of Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, Rep. Scott Tipton and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, as well as with the executive vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation and the government relations representative from the National Farmers Union. We discussed water, land use, oil and gas exploration, regulatory issues, commodity pricing, changes in community “sense of place” and regulatory hindrances as they apply to agricultural production.
So, does anyone out there care? The answer is yes.
Without exception, everyone I spoke with was familiar with the concerns detailed in my white paper and was looking for additional real-life impact stories. Our elected officials need us to keep them informed so that agriculture can continue to feed and clothe the world.
Marsha Daughenbaugh is a Routt County rancher and the executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.