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March 2013 Archive for Inputs Insights

RSS By: Davis Michaelsen, Pro Farmer

Inputs Monitor Editor Davis Michaelsen adds his perspective into the happenings of the inputs markets.

The Cart Before the Horse: Part III -- The Right Kind of Place

Mar 22, 2013

Part III of this series finds us in the office of Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey who had answered some tough questions from growers at a meeting in Grundy Center, Iowa two weeks earlier. Farmers at the meeting cited recent proposed legislation that ended up harming growers on its way to improved water quality. (Read Iowa State's 'Iowa's Recreational Use Immunity -- Now You See it, Now You Don't' for more detail.)cart before the horse1

As the Secretary discussed Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy, growers were concerned that this water quality related effort would get it all wrong like water quality legislation that has come before.

Three Iowa legislators were on hand at the meeting and while the other two put in their own two cents, it was Secretary Northey who took a bold stance against government regulations on the farm saying, "If the Nutrient Reduction Strategy comes out and regulation is part of it, then it is just a legal war and we are going to fight it. We're going to fight it politically, we're going to fight it legally, and forget any voluntary effort because we're not going to end up going there if that's the way it goes."

Northey's message makes sense for all of the states working on a Nutrient Reduction Strategy -- get growers involved and making efforts. A demonstrated voluntary effort will help keep government regulation of NPK and livestock production at bay.

We join Secretary Northey in his office in Des Moines...

MONITOR: You've been traveling around Iowa talking about the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, and I saw you up in Grundy - kinda laying it out for farmers, opening yourself up to that and they seemed very engaged, very interested and willing to talk about it…has that been your experience across the state?

NORTHEY: It has. People come at it from very different viewpoints. Some have kept up on this, and others are busy with their own life and this is the first discussion for them as far as 'do we have a responsibility here with this'.

We remind them there is not a legal requirement, no legal framework by the federal government that can come after farmers, but there are good reasons for us to engage before that gets established.

MONITOR: Iowa is second after Mississippi to start chiseling away at nutrient reduction. Do you foresee a future where one state could have the best ideas and the EPA says, 'now we've got the Mississippi Nutrient Reduction Plan and here's how every state has to do it'…

NORTHEY: We will all borrow from each other and learn from each other, but I think state specific plans driven by the state is valuable for two reasons. One is we are all different. An Iowa nonpoint plan is not going to work in Louisiana. We have different landscapes, different tillage, different drainage tile, different slope so we are all different.

Secondly, to get adoption, it really has to be invented here and it has to engage people. I know how much our folks would not want to be told by another state what we are going to do in Iowa just because somebody from Washington D.C. thought they had a particularly good plan somewhere else. We should be reaching out and learning from each other, but we shouldn't have one plan that is forced on everybody else because it happens to be really working in a particular state.

MONITOR: Would the EPA one day march in and say, 'Alright, now every body's got to report their nitrogen, everybody's got to cover crop and everybody's got to do X,Y and Z according to our EPA plan or else,'?

NORTHEY: Right now, no. It would take a lawsuit or a consent decree or a change in what the clean water act says. My understanding is that the Clean Water Act does not allow for regulation of nonpoint sources. But just because it is not there, doesn't mean we sit on our hands. It means we still figure out ways to take control of this and learn the technologies. Done right, these technologies actually help us. If they allow us to use less nitrogen and build organic matter through cover crops, those are all good things.

Some would argue we are just one lawsuit away from EPA regulations, but I don't think so. There actually is a lawsuit out there right now where some of the environmental groups are suing EPA in the Mississippi River Basin and saying that because of Gulf Hypoxia that EPA should come up with a nutrient standard and require the states to perform according to that nutrient standard.

In this case, EPA is saying, 'No, we are letting the states take the lead…they are the ones that can make this happen.' The farm groups in some of those states are on EPA's side - which has rarely been the case - saying 'We are in agreement with EPA that this should be state-driven.'

We argue we have a common interest in keeping this state-driven because it would create a huge economic burden if the suit caused agriculture to be required to meet some kind of nutrient standard that they couldn't meet.

MONITOR: With the Federal Government having the kind of financial and economic trouble it is right now, I have a hard time seeing them being able to afford switching over from enforcement by the state level DNR to a full-on federal enforcement effort…

NORTHEY: They want a state agency. Not because they let farmers off the hook…its because the local people understand it better. Rather than somebody coming in from another state to look at an Iowa cattle feeding operation, get an Iowan who's been on other Iowa cattle operations that can understand what it looks like just after a rain -- the fact that the cattle are a little sloppy today, they'll be dry by this afternoon, doesn't bother me at all.

But the guy coming from halfway across the country may or may not get the same feel. They may say, 'there's a bunch of mud out there.' But we have beautiful black soils not sand - which is a good thing, and yet that's the place we have our feedyards.

MONITOR: So are you pleased with the progress on this so far?

NORTHEY: It sure feels like things are going well with the reduction strategy and we are hearing good things. The attitude is good both in the countryside and in the capital. Governor Branstad has been very supportive of a voluntary program and he included budget items and we really appreciate that too.

I think for the middle of March, we are in the right kind of place.



The Cart Before the Horse: Part II -- A Short Step

Mar 15, 2013

"When I went to the meeting to see what was going on I was handed a brochure. It was already in fancy print and ready to go. And that's when I said, don't you think you've got the cart before the horse?"cart before the horse1

Part two of this series takes us back to a town-hall meeting with Iowa Legislators Pat Grassley and Bill Dix along with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. A grower raised some questions about new policies awaiting legislative approval that threaten to put growers at risk for lawsuits from visitors to the farm. The case discussed in Part I revolved around a kindergarten field trip to a farm that went terribly wrong when a teacher fell through a port in the haymow. The woman broke her hand and ankle and filed suit against the farmer.

The legal X's and O's are related to the Designated Water Trails legislation and Iowa Code 461 which states that farmers who allow the public to use their land for recreational purposes -- hunting, fishing, kayaking down the creek, etc. -- are NOT liable for damages or injury to peoples or possessions on the property. But once the farmer decides to join in and lead a tour, host a hayride or act as a guide, the farmer or landowner are no longer immune from liability, and CAN be sued.

The growers on hand at the Grundy Center meeting believed the legislation was handled very poorly, and felt their rights were considered only as an afterthought -- unexpected liability.

A Farm Bureau member at the meeting asked the legislators how things could be so backward that farmers are discouraged from sharing their operation with school children and visitors by making those farmers potentially liable for damages to property or persons.

This comes as Iowa Ag Secretary Northey is working hard to develop a Nutrient Reduction Strategy that will satisfy both the EPA and farmers -- and asking growers to join the effort voluntarily.

We rejoin the conversation at Titan Machinery in Grundy Center, Iowa...

GROWER 2: If we can take this and move it on to the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, and you're saying we have pieces of Nutrient Reduction that we really don't understand just yet, what are the chances they get the cart before the horse with this Nutrient Reduction thing? I mean, you're talking about a possible fundamental change in the way we use fertilizer...what sort of stops do we have in place to make sure it doesn't get all backwards and out of hand?

SECRETARY NORTHEY: It is stretching us…exposing us. I would say, first of all, not doing anything has some real, real risk to it. The backstops we have right now, I believe that certainly the Iowa House is not going to pass anything that has any form of regulation to it. I believe the governor will not sign anything that has any form of regulation to it. I'm certainly going to loudly oppose - in fact, in one of the pieces that has been out there, there is a requirement that all farmers within areas that have nutrient issues would have to have a plan for their farm. Doesn't sound like the end of the world, but that's potentially a lot of people.

Let's say we have 90,000 people now, let's say it's a third of the state, that's 30,000 people. How do 30,000 people develop a plan according to whatever this criteria is? The scariest part of that to me is that it is only a short step from a voluntary plan to a 'you-must-do' regulation. There is actually a hearing on it this week and we are strongly opposed to that.

We will do our part to not have this go forward with regulations. They will say that's not regulation because there is no requirement for the producer to follow through on it. He has to come up with a plan - to me, that's regulation to start with. But it is the framework for the next set of regulations, and that is wrong. That actually violates this whole process. The only way we are going to engage people is if it is voluntary.

The EPA people don't have enough folks to check behind every shed and make sure we don't throw an extra twenty pounds of nitrogen on. And, if they want to have regulation, we will all comply with that regulation one way or another and it may not have any impact on water quality. But we will have to do that to stay in business and we don't care at that point whether it fixes water quality or not…we gotta stay legal.

What they should want from us is us to figure out ways to do a better job in water quality and that be our focus. Not complying with regulation, not lawsuits...we're not going to engage in any of that.

If that comes out and that's part of it, then it is just a legal war and we are going to fight it. We're going to fight it politically, we're going to fight it legally, and forget any voluntary effort because we're not going to end up going there if that's the way it goes.


In next week's third and final installment of 'The Cart Before the Horse', I continue the discussion started at the Grundy Center town-hall meeting with Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey in his office in Des Moines. Look for it next Friday, March 22.


The Cart Before the Horse: Part I -- Unexpected Liability

Mar 14, 2013

All states that border the Mississippi River are working toward a reduction in the flow of nitrogen and phosphates into the watershed as requested by the EPA. Each state will be able to make their own plan at such a reduction, and some states have already jumped in with both feet. This is part one of three blogs that look at possible pitfalls for growers in new legislation. Part one reveals the dismay of landowners and growers at legislation that, in their words, 'got the cart before the horse' on another water quality related piece of legislation.cart before the horse1

No matter what state you may live in, the following is a testament to the power of knowledge in the hands of growers. As each state begins to pitch its own version of a Nutrient Reduction Strategy -- and, indeed, any legislation with ramifications on the farm -- growers and landowners alike must know and understand exactly what is being asked of them, and must make equally certain to speak out when legislators come to town.


Some tough questions came up last week at a town-hall style meeting in Grundy Center, Iowa and your Inputs Monitor was there. Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey was joined by Iowa Ag Committee Chair, Republican Pat Grassley and Republican Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix from Iowa's ninth district. The three leaders introduced themselves and spoke briefly about Iowa's proposed Nutrient Reduction Strategy before questions from growers and landowners sidetracked the conversation.

The questions revolved around Designated Water Trail (DWT) legislation which, according to one attendee, got the 'cart before the horse' in Iowa. The growers on hand felt strongly that DWT, while honorable in its intent to encourage outdoor recreation in the state, increases farmers' liability and lawsuit exposure -- despite verbiage to the contrary in drafts of the bill. (Read Iowa State's 'Iowa's Recreational Use Immunity -- Now You See it, Now You Don't' for more detail.)

The Iowa State article mentioned above lays out the backstory...

"The facts of the case are straightforward. The plaintiff was a chaperone for her daughter’s kindergarten class field trip to the defendants’ dairy farm. The kindergarten teacher had been invited to bring her class to the farm on an annual basis for 25 years. During this visit, the group was guided by the defendants to different activities, such as horseback riding, calf feeding, tractor viewing, and playing in the hayloft. The plaintiff was in the hayloft with the children when the hay bale on which she was standing gave way and she fell down a chute to the floor six feet below. As a result, she broke her wrist and ankle. The plaintiff sued the defendants alleging that they breached their duty to maintain the premises in a safe manner."

While the bill associated with DWT legislation -- Iowa Code 461C -- releases land owners and farmers from liability for unaccompanied visitors to the property, the spirit of the bill changes considerably when the landowner/farmer choose to accompany guests and participate themselves in the recreational activities. If the landowner/farmer is acting as a tourguide or facilitating horseback riding or even a simple hayride, the landowner/farmer can be held liable for any injury that may result. This is where we pick up the conversation....

GROWER: We have Black Hawk Creek as a designated water trail - it doesn't always run, sometimes you can walk across it. The issue there is first of all, I don't think we should be spending the money on Black Hawk Creek. There are other areas that might get better use of that money than for only one or two kayakers -- spending money on signs, the liability of private ownership, the liability of the cows' pasture and fences, liability of getting an ambulance out to the creek, through a cornfield. The DNR used 461 and thought that would be a blanket for us poor people out here…now this code doesn't even work, they didn't even know it when he came to our meeting about overturning that. It was news to him.

If you want us, and most of us here that are involved with Farm Bureau, I've had kids out, I've had foreign visitors - you want to show people what you are doing so they understand so we have less conflict between urban and rural. Now we can't even do that unless we take a greater risk in doing it. They could have avoided all of this if they would have talked to the Farm Bureau or other Ag groups. They would have made them aware of that liability issue. Now if they had proceeded, that's fine, but they at least would have maybe avoided some problems.
LANDOWNER: Even before this got going at the meeting, the letters did go out to the landowners. When I went to the meeting to see what was going on, this is last, what October or November when the meeting was, I was handed a brochure. It was already in fancy print and ready to go. And that's when I said, 'don't you think you've got the cart before the horse?'

GRASSLEY: Was that put together by the local folks or the DNR? The reason I say that is because, again to get the grant you had to have - it was handled backwards and I agree with that…

GROWER: Its not a very good common-sense approach Pat and I'm not blaming you but I'm just saying the signs being put up intimidate people to even question 'cause then you think it's a done deal.

GRASSLEY: I agree. This is a perfect example of why people don't trust government…
GROWER:'s a total disregard for private property rights quite frankly…
GRASSLEY: ...and I agree with that. Again, I would just encourage you, regardless of where you stand on it to contact your supervisors. That's what I've been told to pass along to you guys here in Grundy County, so I'm passing that message along from what I was told at the state level. Senator Dix, anything to add?
DIX: Nothing other than to add I'm not aware at the moment of a bill that's working through the process in the senate. We will do what we can to shepherd whatever comes over from the house.

GROWER: The ratio here as far as how many kayakers are going to use Black Hawk Creek is questionable and maybe that money could have done more good in some other areas in Iowa's recreation and we are all for Iowa recreation, but this whole thing has gotten out of hand and now with the liability issue, I mean, when I want to invite school kids or I want to have urban visitors - we have had people from Russia, Turkey…I know people that won't do it. I'll probably still take the risk even if it doesn't get changed but there will be a lot of people that wouldn't.
GRASSLEY: Again, I don't want to say the bill as drafted will pass. I feel confident that we will work to address the issue and I know Senator Dix worked on it, what are your thoughts as to how that would be received in the senate?
DIX: I really don't know. The senate is a very different dynamic…
GRASSLEY: I shouldn't have put you on the spot…(laughs)
DIX: Ha ha -- From the position I'm in at the senate, I'm the leader of the republicans who are 24 to 26 and so the committee makeup is not favorable to us. It is something that, we do have some relationships and I don't want to overlook that, but we will do what we can and try to figure out a way to…
GROWER: I would think this would be common ground here.
DIX: ...yes, but at the same time, leaders in some of those committees, they don't always see these issues in the same way, so frankly, I haven't had these conversations with those folks, so we will just have to see where we can take it.


Part two of this report will take the conversation one step further when Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey speaks to reassure growers that Iowa's proposed Nutrient Reduction Strategy will not get the cart before the horse in the same way. Look for it on your Inputs Monitor next Friday, March 15.


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