Tom Hall, Senior Agronomist, Rooster Strategic Solutions

Rooster is following issues that threaten production agriculture, ranking them from 1 (Low Danger) to 5 (Extreme Danger).

Animal Ag and Nutrient Management: Level 3, Considerable Danger (raised from Level 2, Moderate Danger)

We raised the threat level because of developments in the Chesapeake Bay Region.  The EPA is being sued by the states of Maryland and Virginia, as well as an environmental group, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Their aim? To force EPA to require New York and Pennsylvania to reduce phosphorus and nitrogen runoff from farm fields, factories, and sewage treatment plants.

Here’s the back story: The states that surround the Chesapeake Bay and the EPA formed a compact to reduce pollution in the Bay.  Each state agreed as part of the compact to create a blueprint to reduce pollution from point and nonpoint sources. Point source pollution comes from sources like factories and sewage treatment plants; Nonpoint source is pollution is the runoff from farm fields, as well as parking lots and lawns. The states used authority delegated to them from the EPA under the Clean Water Act to set a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for both point and nonpoint source pollution – this TMDL is the total amount of pollution that a body of water can receive and still be used for drinking water and recreation.

In 2010 the American Farm Bureau Federation filed suit in federal court to stop the implementation of the state blueprints. Farm Bureau argued that the EPA and states did not have the authority under the Clean Water Act to set a TMDL that includes nonpoint source (farm) pollution.  The Farm Bureau suit went from the Federal District Court to the DC Circuit Court, and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court, who sent it back to the DC Circuit Court. The Circuit Court then ruled that the state TMDL blueprints were legal because the Clean Water Act requires a reduction of pollution and the states found that this remedy must include nonpoint source to meet their clean water goals.

After the court ruled in favor of the state blueprints, Maryland and Virginia both met their cleanup goals.  They did this by investing in sewage treatment plants, reducing storm runoff, and implementing stricter regulation of animal agriculture. Maryland also started regulating lawn and farm applications. To date, Pennsylvania and New York have not met their goals; the lawsuit filed by Maryland and Virginia against the EPA would require EPA to take actions that ensure Pennsylvania and New York meet pollution reduction goals by 2025.

The Chesapeake Bay is important test case for future pollution regulation for three reasons.

  1. It provides a game plan to clean up large water bodies like the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico
  2. Shows that EPA has the authority to bring states together under the Clean Water Act
  3. Individual states after setting goals must take actions to reduce both point and nonpoint (farm) source pollution.

Other imminent threats we’re following:

Issue: Threat Level
Resistant Weeds: 5 – Extreme Danger
Attacks on Ethanol: 4 – High Danger
Crop Protection Products: 3 – Considerable Danger
Loss of bipartisan cooperation on ag issues: 2 – Moderate Danger
New alternative fuels: 1 – Low Danger

Resistant Weeds: Level 5 – Extreme Danger

Glyphosate-resistant pigweed has already overwhelmed fields across the south and corn belt and it will likely get worse. In the past, farmers used Dicamba in addition to 2,4-D and glufosinate-resistant soybeans to ensure their fields stayed clean; the loss of Dicamba due to off-target issues has taken a valuable asset out of their hands, even though pigweed was already showing signs of resisting Dicamba. In fact, pigweed has shown an amazing ability to adapt to most post-emergence chemistries. To win the war on pigweed, farmers must use overlapping residuals, start with clean fields, and consider using cover crops.

Biomass Legislation: Level 4 – High Danger

Ethanol, which uses a third of the corn produced by U.S. growers, is fighting an increasingly dangerous, two-front war. On one side are gasoline refiners pleading for EPA waivers to avoid having to blend ethanol with gasoline. On the other side are well-funded environmental lobbyists who have decided that, when it comes to clean energy, solar and wind projects are preferable to biomass or nuclear. Being squeezed between the two sides of this vise isn’t a new situation for growers. Farmers will need to pay special attention to energy policy as it’s debated in the new 2021 Congress.

Crop Protection Products: Level 3 – Considerable Danger

For more than 100 years, the U.S. Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) has successfully enforced both the safe use of and access to crop protection products. But a new proposal championed by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) would overhaul FIFRA. Called the “Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act of 2020,” the proposal would impose a long list of new restrictions on the regulation, sale, and use of pesticides. It would immediately ban organophosphates and neonicotinoids. It would create a process for citizens to petition the EPA to review and ban pesticides. It would give states a much greater role in regulating farm products. And it would require the EPA to review – and likely restrict – any substances deemed unsafe by the European Union or Canada. Most political insiders believe this legislation has no chance of passing in 2020, but farmers are well advised to watch closely the makeup and actions of the 2021 Congress.

Farm State Bipartisan Coalition Collapse: Level 2 – Moderate Danger

For years ag issues have been overseen by the House and Senate Ag Committees with strong bipartisan support.  As Ag issues overlap into health and the environment, they will be overseen by a larger segment of Congress.  The legislators with the closest relationship to farmers will have a smaller role in overseeing farmer issues.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells: Level 1 – Low Danger

Everyone in commodity crop agriculture should look at the Nikola Motor Company. This start-up company is developing hydrogen fuel cells and electric trucks.  What differentiates them from Tesla is the development of H2 Filling Stations where they expect to profit primarily as a hydrogen fuel supplier.  It is early days for Nikola but biofuels like ethanol and bio diesel have a growing list of competitors.

As conditions change, we’ll do our best to alert you on these issues and tell you if they’re moving up or down the “danger list.” For now, we recommend:

  • Joining an organization like Farm Bureau or other Ag livestock for commodity organizations will help you see what is coming and how they can plan accordingly.
  • Lend your voice to shape legislation, both in writing and by attending public hearings.
  • Take action to stay in front the situation. For example, every livestock farm should implement a nutrient management plant with the guidance of local soil and water associations or the NRCS.

Advanced knowledge of upcoming challenges is the key to surviving and adapting to these challenges.