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?"
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.