House Ag Committee Continues Focus on Farm Economy- Holds Fifth Hearing

A news release yesterday from the House Agriculture Committee indicated that, “Today, Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry, held a hearing to highlight the impacts of environmental regulation and voluntary conservation solutions. This is the fifth hearing in the Focus on the Farm Economy series [note that a summary of the first four hearings can be found here, here, here and here], where each of the six subcommittees are tasked with examining the growing pressure in rural America from the perspective of the subcommittee. Members heard from two panels of witnesses, including farmers and ranchers who are utilizing voluntary, incentive-based programs to protect and preserve our natural resources, while also maintaining profitable production on their land.

“‘Today, we are once again reminded that locally-led, voluntary conservation practices work. Through assistance and incentive-based programs provided in the Farm Bill, our nation’s farmers and ranchers are voluntarily reducing soil erosion, increasing wetlands, improving water quality, and preserving farmland and wildlife habitats. However, some government agencies continue to implement over burdensome regulatory requirements, which create financial obstacles for our producers. It is important we continue to support common-sense legislation and voluntary practices that enable farmers and ranchers to continue preserving the health and vitality of our natural resources,’ said Subcommittee Chairman Thompson.”

Richard R. Ebert, the President of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, explained at yesterday’s hearing that, “Because farmers are likely to regularly experience volatile and unpredictable commodity prices, it is critically important for individual farm businesses to control their operation costs, especially when sharp drops in prices for their products occur. But farmers can’t be effective in managing costs unless they are very certain of what those costs are likely to be for both the short-term and a more long-term span of several years.

Compliance with the legal obligations associated with commercial business operations is becoming a significant aspect of farmers’ management of costs. Often, actions by government to increase regulatory standards have the effect of increasing a business’ costs of operation. Some businesses have the economic ability to pass the additional costs of increased regulatory standards onto their customers merely by increasing the prices of their products. Increasing their prices doesn’t impact the marketability or consumer demand for their products. Individual farm businesses, however, do not the power in the market to increase prices. The farm business will have to employ some other means – usually reduce or control some other area of cost – to offset any increased costs resulting from more stringent regulatory standards.”

And Kate English, a partner in English Family Partnership in Fort Myers, FL noted at yesterday’s hearing that, “The cost of compliance continues to rise due to the volume and complexity of information required to obtain and maintain compliance with a permit at all levels of government – local, state and federal. Land activities such as leveling, clearing or routine water management that used to be allowed, either without a permit or with a minimal permit that denoted the activity on the land, now require more complex technical information and the fulfillment of ongoing reporting. Permit applications that initially could be completed by the farmer in a few hours now require many months of preparation and expert assistance from legal and engineering professionals to navigate the agencies’ review of the application, which can take more than a year. These changes have exponentially increased the cost of farming and the costs are not prorated to the size of the farm, disproportionately impacting small and mid-sized farms.”

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