Is Ag Under-regulated? It Depends

Environmentalists and agriculture, who don't see eye-to-eye, will have many face-offs during the 2012 Farm Bill debates.

Published on: Apr 20, 2012

Early this week, Jim Magagna, a long-time Wyoming sheep grower, had a friendly face-off a few blocks from the nation's capitol with Scott Faber, the Environmental Working Group's new vice president for government affairs. The debate centered around whether agriculture is under-regulated or over-regulated.

Faber began in a conciliatory mode, noting that farmers have made extraordinary commitment to wildlife habitat and the environment over the last 30 years. "In fact, farmers have made more improvements than any other sector on water quality," he added, noting that conservation contracts and compliance have been the foundation of those changes.

GAP OF UNDERSTANDING: Faber (left) says much of agriculture is exempted from regulations affecting the environment. Magagna (right) counters that Faber doesnt see the bigger picture.
GAP OF UNDERSTANDING: Faber (left) says much of agriculture is exempted from regulations affecting the environment. Magagna (right) counters that Faber doesn't see the bigger picture.

"Yet, agriculture is largely unregulated on greenhouse gases. There's a long list of exemptions for agriculture on air and water quality laws," he contended. "Small tractors, for example, are exempt from air quality standards."

Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, agreed with the improvements cited by Faber, then pulled out his long list of regulations that he contended "overwhelms small operators of crop and livestock farms and ranches. Combinations of state and federal regulations dramatically impact most farm operations, he argued. Many are adopted without regard to practicality on the farm.

Magagna cited the U.S. Department of Labor's latest farm labor regulation proposals regarding youth as just one example. Under the recently proposed rules, 4-H and Future Farmers of America organizations would be precluded from labor training.

Faber and Magagna walked away from the debate without limping or bruises. But they'll likely tangle again over the 2012 Farm Bill. Faber is expected to lead the Environmental Working Group's efforts to turn the 2012 Farm Bill into a food bill, shifting focus from commodity programs to conservation-incentives, crop insurance and food crops.