Smith: Brian Bunting bought a farm near Metropolis, Illinois, back in 2010 and spent five years getting it back in shape for row crops. Five years later, he received a letter from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service informing him that he had allegedly converted 11 acres of wetlands back into farmland. He says that’s when the trouble started.
Bunting: All my payments in crop insurance subsidies had been withheld. 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. 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 1960’s and ‘70’s.
Smith: Bunting says the government determination was wrong because the land had clearly been farmed in the past. He went through the appeals process, claiming the land should have been grandfathered in under the Swampbuster Laws.
Bunting: I didn’t feel that I got any justice through the appeals process whatsoever. Because I’ve contended 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.
Smith: Bunting says he is the one in the dispute that has to provide a “preponderance of the evidence” to prove his case. So far, despite his evidence, the determination of a wetland still remains in effect. He’s researched many other cases and found out he’s not the only farmer going through a situation like this.
Bunting: Talking to other folks across the county and across the country that have been through this situation or one similar to it. I haven’t gotten any farm program money 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 the NRCS now.
Smith: Chad Smith, Washington.