Clements: The Agriculture Department released its proposed Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation interim final rule, known as the swampbuster rule, in December addressing how USDA defines, determines, and certifies wetlands for USDA program benefits. However, proposed changes to the decades-old regulation raise concerns the American Farm Bureau Federation would like to see addressed. AFBF this week submitted public comments on the proposal. Don Parrish, AFBF senior director of regulatory relations, says farmers and ranchers need clear standards.
Parrish: That rule, if triggered, will prevent farmers from getting farm program benefits and even more importantly will prevent them from getting crop insurance. USDA owes farmers very clear standards for wetland determinations and other aspects of the appeals process. Those policies are important because they protect both the agency and they also protect farmers and ranchers, so that they know how to comply with the law.
Clements: Provisions in the farm bill say once wetlands are converted, they are always converted. However, proposed changes make the intent of the rule less clear.
Parrish: As USDA changes definitions of important terms, or introducing new concepts like abandonment into those terms, it really does put a question mark in our mind as to how these programs are going to be implemented. Are we actually protecting once converted-always converted if you’re introducing abandonment into the mix of those definitions?
Clements: Parrish says USDA owes farmers and ranchers clear exemptions as outlined in the farm bill.
Parrish: When I talk to farmers and ranchers all across the county, they’re most frustrated by the lack of transparency at USDA on what are those exemptions and how do they apply to their farm. And the lack of clarity and full understanding of how these programs work has really culminated in some real frustrations out there in farm country today. This USDA has got a real opportunity to fix that.
Clements: Micheal Clements, Washington.