Stutzman: Time to Redefine ‘Rural’ for USDA

Posted March 3, 2011 at 1:54pm

The Obama administration is taking steps to separate the American people from the land that feeds and clothes them.

Federal agencies are looking for more ways to regulate our daily lives, and every week they overreach their authority. Every regulation and ruling has an adverse effect on the agricultural industry, which, in turn, leads to higher energy and food costs. This administration does not seem to understand the basics of business and only understands an unnatural need to drive innovation out of the agricultural industry. With rural counties continuing to lose population to urban centers, it is of the utmost importance to define what is rural — as directed by the 2008 farm bill — so as to target scarce federal dollars to those needy communities hanging in the balance.

The Environmental Protection Agency continues to pursue an agenda that does not account for the effects on farmers and ranchers. The agency is pursuing regulations that limit the ability of farmers to work their fields by demanding that no dust be raised during tilling. These regulations further threaten fines to farmers for Clean Air Act violations because of the dust. This type of action by the EPA is only one of many that bypass Congress by writing regulations that do not apply to laws previously enacted.

It is time for oversight and an open process to determine the reasons for rulings and regulations that directly and adversely affect agriculture. There must be a check placed on an agency that decides to operate outside the law and believes it can order Congress to write legislation that will give it more authority — while threatening new regulations if Congress does not capitulate to such demands.

With the writing of the next farm bill right around the corner, it is imperative we understand the effect of the current law on agriculture and the nation as a whole. My fellow Republicans in the majority on the Agriculture Committee will spend this year evaluating programs and holding hearings to determine what’s working and what can be improved to support our producers. It is of the utmost importance to make sure the goal of the program is consistent with how it is being implemented while maintaining fiscal responsibility.

Many programs have seen their purpose change over time. We must take a hard look to determine which programs have outlived their usefulness so that we can make the hard decisions to improve agriculture as a whole. This review will include justification of any subsidy programs, many of which are in desperate need of overhaul. It is time to look at how useful these programs are, determine whether they are indeed needed to protect producers in times of trouble or identify whether there is a better way to protect producers in the short and long term.

Serving on the subcommittee dealing with rural development has shown me the importance of the English language. It seems the word “rural” has too many meanings within the Department of Agriculture. This only adds to the confusion between the agency and producers. It is time for Washington to understand what “rural” means and to use a definition that can be applied to the whole government.

Once a solid definition is created — or at the very least there’s a clear understanding of the current definitions, as directed in the 2008 farm bill — it will be easier to keep rural development programs where they are needed and to use the sparse resources to their best effect, and thus be fiscally responsible with those funds.

As a family farmer who has lived under the rule and guide of legislation and agency regulations. I know the importance of limited government. Growing up farming in the Midwest taught me that fiscal responsibility is key to long-term success, so I’m eager to work on the Budget and Agriculture panels to balance the needs of producers with the need to end deficit spending.

This review process is the perfect opportunity to make dynamic and much-needed changes to a piece of legislation that has become less about agriculture and more about protecting special interests. The 2012 farm bill has the opportunity to change Washington culture while improving agriculture and the lives of those in rural America. This will not be easy; it could be one of the most divisive actions taken up by this Congress. We have been charged with making the decisions that will get America growing again!

Rep. Marlin Stutzman is the highest ranking among the 16 freshman Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee. He was elected with 63 percent to succeed Republican Mark Souder, who resigned, in Indiana’s 3rd district (Northeast — Fort Wayne).