Here’s why this Illinois farmer is speaking out against the mistreatment from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service after a wrongful wetlands determination.
I always thought that the burden of proof laid on the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were right, and the accused was wrong.
I'm Bryan Bunting. I've been a farmer here in Metropolis, Illinois all my life. We raise corn, beans and wheat and my wife and I bought a farm in 2010 and started cleaning up on it, getting it back into row crops where it had been to begin with years ago. Back in 2015 I was issued a determination that said I had converted 11 acres of wetlands and all my payments in crop insurance subsidies had been withheld.
I didn't feel that this was a converted wetland because it had been clear and farmed in the past. We've got aerial pictures from 1938 showing it clear and I've got letters from three different neighbors attesting to row crops being on the ground in the '60s and the '70s. So, I thought it should have been grandfathered in under the Swampbuster clause, but that's not the way it's turned out.
I didn't feel that I got any justice through the appeals process whatsoever because I've continued all along that my plot should have been a prior converted cropland instead of a converted wetland. And that the appeals process leaves you with no recourse other than the same folks that have seen the same papers over and over and over again.
In the beginning of the appeals process I did have an attorney and we met and discussed several cases. And in the end he told me that by the letter of the law he thought that I was right, but he just didn't really see any way that we could win. So we parted ways on good terms and I followed through with the rest of the appeal on my own.
Today it's still got the determination of a converted wetland on 11 acres.
I always thought that the burden of proof laid on the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were right and the accused was wrong. But I'm burdened with providing a preponderance of the evidence that the government's accusations are incorrect and that I am right. And a lot of the evidence that I've come up with, they just deem anecdotal and pretend like it doesn't even exist.
I spend countless hours researching cases and talking to other folks and across the county and across the country that had been through this same situation or ones similar to it. I haven't gotten any farm program money or anything since 2014 and now they've cut off my crop insurance subsidies as well.
Congress intended for the ground that was being farmed or had been farmed in the past to be grandfathered in under the Swampbuster regulations. And that's just not the way things are happening at NRCS now. And that's one of the main reasons that I've stuck with this so long was mainly out of principle to get back what Congress actually intended for the laws to do.