By Russell Boening
As a fourth generation farmer in South Texas, you could say that I make my living with water. My crops will not grow without it. Our dairy cows will not give milk without enough fresh, clean water.
I use what we call “best management practices,” meaning that we comply with label directions, use conservation methods and other tools of modern agriculture. We also plant biotech crops. That means we use fewer and smaller amounts of chemicals than we needed two decades ago.
We live on the land. Our children and grandchild drink water from this land. If we did not take care of our resources, including the water, we’d be in serious trouble. It would be bad for our business. Besides, it’s my job to take care of the land. Anything less would be wrong. All people everywhere have a responsibility to take care of the environment. This is especially true of farmers.
That’s why it disturbs me some that I, and most other farmers, must oppose the EPA’s recent changes to the Clean Water Act, sometimes referred to as WOTUS. That stands for Waters of the United States.
Good regulations for agriculture protect the environment, delivering benefits that outweigh the costs. The new Clean Water Rule does not come close to that. It will regulate ditches and low spots in the field. Our analysis says farmers might have to obtain permits for the most routine of farming practices.
These would include applying farm chemicals and we are already required to have an applicator’s license. It does not stop there. It’s possible a permit would be needed to build fences or even to plow.
Most farmers will find it difficult to comply with the regulations and EPA’s fines can run up to $37,000 a day for each violation. It’s possible to be in violation without knowing it.
Worst of all, we don’t yet know exactly how the rule will impact us, because the rule is so open to interpretation. We fear that much regulatory power. It seems all too likely that we could be inadvertently out of compliance because a regulator says so.
For those reasons and others, the Texas Farm Bureau has joined with the American Farm Bureau Federation, other agricultural organizations and organizations representing home builders, road builders, manufacturers and petroleum interests to challenge the rule in court. Nearly 30 states have filed lawsuits as well. At least one federal judge agrees with us. He has stayed the implementation of the rule in 13 states. Unfortunately, Texas is not one of them. However, our day in court is coming. This rule is bad enough that we are optimistic about winning.
I stayed in our family business to earn a living and support my own family. It’s certain these regulations will make that more difficult, but it’s more than that. It’s the mission of farmers and ranchers like me, all over the state of Texas, to grow safe, healthy and affordable food for you.
The fifth generation of Boenings is now farming this land. I dream of the sixth taking over one day, if my grandchildren want to do that. Our goal is now and will always be to keep the land in trust for them. The soil and the water will be in better shape than when my brother and I assumed responsibility for it. That’s my promise to the grandkids—and to you.