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Caring Too Much?

By Staff | May 5, 2011

In our agricultural-based area, it’s easy to understand the daily trials of farmers as they engage in the production of grains and livestock that are the foodstuffs for the world. Even when one lives in one of our rural communities, you understand what it means when there’s too much rain or not enough rain. Area residents all understand the dreaded feelings that rise when dark clouds and cool winds blow in just before a thunderstrom begins – a fear of hail that could wipe out a crop in moments.

We understand these things because we live here – we are neighbors – and neighbors take care of neighbors and friends.

But then we have some people who, in their well-meaning wisdom, come up with ideas, rules, regulations and laws. Some of these ideas are good, designed to protect our water and air quality. Some are also designed to protect wildlife. But, there are also some ideas, crafted with good intentions, that are actually proving to be a costly hinderance and detriment.

For several years, farmers who have drainage ditches running through their lands have been asked to place buffer strips, or strips of grasslands, along the edges of the open ditches, to help avoid soil erosion on the edges of these ditches. These buffer strips could then be enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program.

If an occasion would arise where repairs or work had to be done to a drainage ditch, the farmers were routinely granted waivers to disturb these buffer strips for those projects, with the understanding that when work was done, the buffer strip would be restored.

But in late 2009, the Farm Service Agency, which administers the CRP program, issued a new condition regarding these waivers, forbidding any disturbance of buffer strips between May 15 through August 1 of each year, so as to not disturb the primary nesting seasons of upland wildlife living in these buffer strips. Any farmer who would disturb a buffer strip in that time would be subject to “substantial farm program penalties”.

Unfortunately, that time restriction is also the prime construction season for drainage work – cleaning out ditches, repairing bank damage and the like. With the implementation of the nesting season restriction, a recent drainage project in Palo Alto County would have added several thousand more dollars to the project cost, as the project would take two years to complete, instead of one, due to added interest costs. Those costs fall back upon the landowners in the drainage district.

The nesting restriction has become such an issue that the Kossuth, Palo Alto and Emmet County Boards of Supervisors all have adopted a resolution banning the placement of buffer strips and plantings enrolled in the CRP adjacent to drainage district facilities.

This creates somewhat of a conundrum, doesn’t it? While farmers want to do what they can to ensure clean water, they also need to have adequate drainage for their cropland in order to be able to produce more and more grains to meet the ever-growing demands for the product. But, at the same time, a governmental agency is holding producers hostage for doing their best to be good stewards of Mother Earth.

One farmer, frustrated over the nesting restriction, commented he’d like to see the official who dreamed the rule up figure out how to eat for three months without any food, noting that rule put nesting birds ahead of feeding countless hungry people around the world.

There are those who would contend that farmers don’t have to participate in the CRP, which is true, but then you lose the advantage of the wildlife opportunities that other CRP acres create, not to mention the fact that much CRP land is actually marginal farmland that would be more prone to soil erosion.

It’s too bad that a compromise cannot be reached in this nesting season impasse other than one group trying to out-legislate the other. Common sense should be the answer.

But then, I remember what I was taught by a wise boss I had when I?worked for the State of Iowa back in the 1980’s “In government, always do what the book says. because Common Sense is not tolerated!”