Opinions & sacred cows: Challenges in 2013 are many
By Ron Goble
The challenges agriculture, and specifically the dairy industry, will face in 2013 cover a wide range of issues and needs, but the two most essential areas of concern are the Farm Bill and the heightened presence of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In the worst way, the industry needs a legislative solution, putting in place new policies that will help dairy producers minimize the volatile ups and downs of their marketplace, while taking into account the skyrocketing cost of doing business.
No solutions were adopted. Instead, the U.S. Congress punted, kicking the proverbial tin can down the road with a nine-month extension of the current Farm Bill, rather than come to a consensus on a measure that could bring much-needed economic stability to one of the nation’s most depressed and struggling industries.
Lawmakers had more than enough good information to make an intelligent decision on policies that would help protect dairy producers from the huge swings in milk prices and feed costs. (USDA places cost of production at $28/cwt., and the all-milk price is barely $20/cwt.) Yet Congress failed to make the economic health of our nation’s food providers the priority it should have been.
While many producers are still struggling to make ends meet, an even bigger threat to their future existence is already knocking on their doors – the EPA. In the last decade, the size of this out-of-control regulatory agency has exploded, as have the tens of thousands of pages outlining new rules and regulations with which agriculture and dairy must comply.
Before the onslaught of new regulations, a study by the Small Business Administration found that by 2008 federal regulation already cost American business $1.75 trillion per year, with a very disproportionate share of that cost falling on small businesses, like dairies.
Dairy producers already comply with a mountain of paperwork, water monitoring and testing, and special certification requirements. Numerous industry observers fear this deluge of regulation will continue to get worse if EPA is allowed to expand its authority.
There is some good news, however. A federal judge recently ruled the EPA overstepped its authority when it determined that water itself is a pollutant.
“Stormwater runoff is not a pollutant, so EPA is not authorized to regulate it…,” according to the judge, Liam O’Grady. “EPA cannot be allowed to exceed its clearly limited statutory authority.”
Five Washington state dairies are fighting their own battle with the EPA over nitrate contamination issues. Washington Dairy Products Commission (WDPC) reported conclusions from a consulting firm in New Mexico, and a dairy expert at Texas A&M University, who agreed the EPA report failed to provide necessary data to justify its conclusions.
One can only hope the EPA won’t be allowed to run unchecked over small business with its over-reaching tendencies.
• Ron Goble is editor of DairyBusiness West. Contact him via e-mail: email@example.com.