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WASHINGTON – America’s farmers and ranchers are facing an economic storm. With farm income levels that have been slashed by half since 2013, a continued slump in crop prices and export markets in serious peril, the hit farmers are taking from costly regulations only intensifies the storm, according to Kansas farmer Glenn Brunkow.

“Right now every penny counts in agriculture,” Brunkow told a House Small Business subcommittee on Capitol Hill this week. “Farm income is at the lowest level in more than a decade. In many cases, the prices that farmers receive for their crops or livestock continue to be as much as 50 percent lower than a few short years ago. In tough economic times like this, farmers feel the impact of regulations even more because money dedicated to compliance – especially when it is of doubtful value – is money that cannot be reinvested in the farm or put in the bank to cushion against hard times.”

Brunkow, a crop and livestock farmer who serves on the Kansas Farm Bureau board of directors, told members of Congress that when it comes to regulations and agriculture, one fact cannot be overlooked.

“Farmers and ranchers today are highly regulated and face an increasing array of regulatory demands and requirements that appear to be unprecedented in scope,” Brunkow said.

Brunkow testified that due to the costly impact of regulations, Farm Bureau has made reform a strategic priority. From the flawed 2015 Waters of the United States rule, to rules that limit the use of prescribed and managed fires to rejuvenate grasslands and prevent larger fire hazards, farmers and ranchers are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of far-reaching regulations due to the fact they work with natural resources to produce food, fiber and fuel, he said.

Flawed rules, regulations

Brunkow told the subcommittee that regulatory agencies often assert undue authority when it comes to enforcement and appeals. One particularly egregious example is so-called “swampbuster” regulations, where USDA agencies sit as both “judge and jury,” he said. Many of farmers’ compliance problems arise when they undertake basic, everyday farming activities such as removing or cleaning up fence rows, squaring off or modifying a field footprint, improving or repairing drainage, cleaning out drainage ditches, or removing trees in or adjacent to farm fields, Brunkow explained.

He said Congress clearly wanted to ensure that prior converted cropland was classified as farmland eligible for farm programs, but farmers are repeatedly finding themselves fighting the federal government to assert their rights to manage their land in light of an appeals process “that is heavily weighted in favor of the government and against farmers.”

Brunkow also highlighted the flaws in the 2015 WOTUS rule, which if allowed to go into effect, would pose “tremendous risks and uncertainty for farmers, ranchers and others who depend on their ability to work the land.” He testified that Farm Bureau is advocating for repeal of the 2015 rule, in favor of a common-sense approach that ensures “clean water and provides clear, understandable rules.”

“A farmer should be able to walk out into his field and, without having to hire lawyers and engineers, point to one area and say it’s WOTUS and point to another area and say it is not WOTUS,” Brunkow said. “That clarity does not exist today.”

Brunkow is the agricultural Extension educator for K-State Research and Extension in Pottawatomie County, KS. He and his father, Darold, own and operate Brush Creek Cattle Co., Wamego, KS..

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