Commentary: Reforming regulations would help farmers to succeed


Issue Date: February 16, 2011
By Josh Rolph
When regulations leave farmers and ranchers free to succeed, food security improves, jobs are created and tax revenue is generated.
Josh Rolph

In the last few years we have witnessed an expansion of the federal government over matters traditionally reserved to the private sector that some have likened to LBJ's Great Society and FDR's New Deal. Enactment of the new health care law undoubtedly ranks highest on the list, followed by spending measures in the trillions of dollars.

Additional new laws and regulations now guide the energy industry in the aftermath of the BP oil spill. Student loans, autos, mortgages, credit cards and, most recently, the Internet are now subject to additional federal oversight. The new food safety law will surely have a significant market effect on produce growers, handlers and processors, though it remains to be seen how much it might improve the safety of food. These changes will either directly or indirectly impact the livelihood of farmers and ranchers. The question becomes, which regulations are needed and which are downright unnecessary?

For those who believe more laws and regulations deter economic growth, it was a breath of fresh air last month to see President Obama's executive order requiring federal agencies to evaluate burdensome, duplicative and unnecessary regulation.

At Farm Bureau, we are encouraged by this announcement. We will continue to take our case to Washington that harmful regulations limit our ability to continue producing the best quality food and fiber California has to offer.

An opinion piece by the president in the Wall Street Journal outlined his desire to find the right balance between areas of the economy that should be left to the free market and those that should be governed by regulation. He argued that regulation is needed to "protect the public against threats to our health and safety and to safeguard people and businesses from abuse." Striking the right balance, he said, has been the operating procedure of his administration, which is now codified by the executive order.

But balance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Our challenge still remains that there are some who do not see the world as we do. Farmers and ranchers often face questions and challenges from bureaucrats on practices we know to be safe, responsible, efficient and effective, not only for us, but for our family, workers, neighbors and the overall community.

Sometimes, these regulatory efforts border on outrageous or at best, impractical. Whether it is equipment and livestock emissions, use of any and all crop protection tools, or even dust, it seems nothing in our world is off limits to enthusiastic bureaucrats and regulatory creep.

Oftentimes, we find agencies acting beyond their constitutional function of executing the law and instead, pretending to be legislators themselves, they write rules even though they have no authority to do so. Overly broad interpretation of the law by the unelected has no limits. And unfortunately, agriculture is repeatedly placed in an adversarial position against our own government, when we would much rather be working together to find better, more practical solutions that allow us to do our jobs and to do them well.

We hope the tide is turning and that the president's executive order can lead his administration to govern appropriately and within the limits of the law. He stated that the free market and "entrepreneurialism (are) the key to our continued global leadership and the success of our people" and that he desires that rules are drafted to reflect "more input from experts, businesses and ordinary citizens."

We submit the following as positive steps the administration can take without congressional approval to end useless regulations, expand market opportunities and restore more freedoms to the agricultural marketplace:

  • Reign in sweeping agency interpretations of decades-old laws like the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act that have exceeded congressional intent and resulted in lawsuits, fines, criminal penalties and even a multi-year, statewide water shortage for farmers.
  • End the Environmental Protection Agency attack on crop protection tools. The administration should allow for the responsible use of these tools to improve the safety, quality and abundance of our food supply.
  • Improve regulations governing the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.
  • Facilitate increased management of natural resources on federal lands—specifically livestock grazing and timber harvesting—in order to fulfill the mandate of sustainable, multiple use. Proper management will also improve ecological health, provide jobs and support local communities.
  • Honor our trading commitments in order to end the steep Mexican tariff imposed on a long list of California commodities.
  • Transmit immediately the three free trade agreements that have lagged for four years; create and accelerate negotiations with other nations to open new markets.

This is only a short list of areas in urgent need of regulatory reform—there are many more we could add to the list. What should be remembered by those in political power is that when farmers and ranchers are left free to succeed, we will. And as we succeed, the nation's food security improves, many thousands of jobs are created throughout the supply chain and, as a result of such productivity, tax coffers are filled.

We look forward to continuing our work with the Obama administration to communicate our challenges and will take the president at his word that he will listen.

(Josh Rolph is director of international trade, farm policy, taxation and plant health for the California Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted at jrolph@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.