The Post-Regulatory Era Offers Hope for Farmers
By Sherry Kiesling
Business owners must comply with a myriad of regulations – local, state, and federal – which dictate office facilities, handicapped access, minority hiring, and payroll obligations. Farmers and ranchers, who also consider themselves small business entrepreneurs, are caught in this trap as well. Whether it's wetland regulations, animal odor control or hiring restrictions on temporary workers, farmers are feeling the pinch of the government's regulatory grip.
But at least one expert in agriculture law and policy sees a change in the offing. Roger McEowen, an extension specialist in agriculture law and policy at Kansas State University, believes the United States is moving into what he calls a "post-regulatory era".
Prior to 1960, McEowen says a common law approach, including nuisance, negligence, and trespass law, was used to deal with environmental issues arising from agriculture. But beginning in the mid-1960's, McEowen says government turned to a more regulatory approach. Now, he says federal budget pressures have increased and lawmakers realize there is not enough money in the federal coffers to continue down the heavy-handed road of regulatory authority. Simply put McEowen says, "There's not enough money to pay 135,000 federal bureaucrats to run around the country enforcing these laws."
McEowen says too many regulations are inefficient from an economic standpoint. They also fail to put in place adequate incentives for proper resource use. He says farmers want to comply with regulations, but are often trapped when the rules literally change overnight. The problem is made worse, McEowen says, when multiple federal agencies are involved in enforcing the statutes, and bureaucrats are constantly redefining them. According to McEowen, it's almost like trying to nail jello to a tree.
As a practicing attorney, McEowen worked with many farmers who were trapped in a regulatory nightmare. He cautions farmers or ranchers who may be in a similar situation to use common sense, keep copies of all their documents and, if necessary, seek legal assistance. McEowen says that many attorneys specialize in this kind of work and could save a farmer or rancher thousands of dollars in government fines.
As for the bigger picture, McEowen says the 1994 elections were the first sign that some philosophical shifts are occurring in Americans' attitudes toward regulations. He believes that more individuals are seeking market- based, incentive-based programs to deal with environmental issues. McEowen says today's generation knows how much money is coming out of their paycheck, how much money is going to Washington. "There is enough disgust with that, that something is going to happen, and it has to happen in the near future."
Many farmers and ranchers, along with their colleagues in business, hope McEowen's crystal ball proves to be correct.
Sherry Kiesling is a writer/producer in the broadcast services department of the American Farm Bureau Federation.