A phone call with a regulator this week prompted me to view how we should take care of our land and resources in a slightly different way. One new rule requiring licensing for applicators who apply fertilizer for hire or manure from a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) unit goes into effect Jan 1. At the same time there is a rule proposed for how fertilizers are handled in this state. You can comment on it until January 7, but it won't be finalized likely until spring, and probably won't take effect for several months after that.
There are those, even some in government, who think these regulations go too far. Their thought is that government should step aside, and let farmers farm. I'm a minimum regulation-guy myself, but there still has to be reasonable attention paid to the environment.
After talking to the regulator, I realized that the new law coming into effect this year and the proposed rule are mainly to fill loopholes, and encourage those people who take advantage of loopholes to stretch how they practice farming. Sometimes they stretch it so far that there is risk to the environment. Maybe they don't care if a little bit of manure runs into a creek from a stockpile of manure, or if they apply along a ditch bank spreading bulk fertilizer and fertilize the stream as well.
There aren't many people in that category. At least I hope not. But because there are some, that's why we must have rules and regulations. After all, we don't need laws against murder for 99% of the population, hopefully higher, but the laws are there for those who push the line.
Compared to regulations in other parts of the Corn Belt, what's proposed so far here are mild. There are places where you have to restrain from applying nitrogen on certain soils, or monitor phosphate and potassium levels. These rules don't go that far.
Here's where it gets interesting. The regulator said that 15 or so years down the road, that might happen and rules might specify nutrient levels. I noted that it might not be that long, particularly in vulnerable watersheds, like those feeding the Great Lakes in northern Indiana.
It won't be as long as farmers collectively farm correctly and don't abuse the environment. A good 99% do that already. Unfortunately there is one here and there who doesn't care if water seeps out of his manure pile toward a creek, and who can't stop himself from fertilizing the creek bank.
How soon we see more restrictive laws may depend somewhat on how good a job agriculture does policing itself. As long as we maintain the trust of the public and make sure there are no glaring abuses, there won't be a need for regulations that hamstring the 99%, to try to shut down the 1%. So if you're a 99%'er, congratulations. Keep up the good work.
If you're a 1%'er who thinks what you do won't really hurt anything, or that you'll never get caught anyway, shame on you. It's time to step to the plate. Do your part to protect the integrity of agriculture. If you really love farming and the farm life, how could you do any less?