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Regulatory Burdens Destroying Farming Industry

The country's food growers are getting squeezed dry by inane environmental edicts.

by
Patrick Richardson

Bio

October 13, 2011 - 12:00 am
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President Barack Obama is continuing to tour the country touting his so-called “jobs bill,” insisting we have to pass this bill now in order to create jobs and save the economy. While Obama is touting more spending — and also more regulation — PJMedia has teamed up with AmericanJobCreators.com (AJC) to detail the impact of regulation on job creation in the United States, and to show how an actual jobs bill would require no spending, just a rollback of regulatory burdens.

We first looked at the impact of regulations on the trucking industry. Today’s article focuses on farming.

AJC — a project of House Republicans in general and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in particular — spoke recently with a fourth-generation family farmer from California: Tom Deardorff II of Oxnard. He runs Deardorff Family Farms.

It’s a corporation — most family farms these days are. Farming is a business, and the farmers who don’t treat it that way don’t stay farmers very long. As AJC notes in their latest “Dispatch from the Road”:

While American families deserve clean air and water, America’s two million family farms live or die by it. Sustainable ecosystems power the more than $300 billion agriculture industry, feeding America and supporting about 1.2 million jobs. Just as overfishing puts fisherman out of work, poisoned land puts a farm out of business. Tom Deardorff II — Oxnard, CA small business owner and fourth generation family farmer — put it another way: “We are the first environmentalists.”

While they are not as close to the land as subsistence farmers, modern farmers still are connected to it in a way city dwellers, however environmentally conscious, cannot be. Once again, farmers who do not try to operate in a sustainable manner don’t remain farmers for long, and many of those two million family farmers have been on the same land for a century or more. Said Deardorff during an AmericanJobCreators.com visit to his family’s small produce packing facility:

My father created a sustainable, good business. We feel a very strong connection to the land and all our resources for that matter, whether land, water or labor. … It’s important for us to not only operate our business in a way that acknowledges and respects those resources, but also sustains them and makes them available for future generations.

The next generation depends on Mr. Deardorff both caring for his piece of California and providing for his 120 full-time workers and their families. A goal shared, in theory, by the 81,205 pages of federal government regulations.

But as these government dos-and-dont’s travel the 2,777 miles from Washington to reality, many turn into costly burdens, saddling small businesses like Deardorff Family Farms with higher costs and uncertain futures. Worse, meddling from the bureaucrats enforcing federal government regulations erodes the economic freedom and predictability on which Mr. Deardorff’s great-grandfather built the farm. Deardorff and many like him now find themselves running afoul of regulations such as the Clean Air Act or the Endangered Species Act. Said Deardorff:

I always thought my Dad went to work in a free-market economy. If you make the right decisions, you’re profitable. And if you make the wrong decisions, you’re not. … Now that I sit in his chair, I am amazed at how much I have to weave my way through government, government regulation and how that plays into our decision-making process.

Like any farming operation, the most important resource is water – a clean, reliable supply of water. Even though rain and snow were plentiful this year, government regulators have their hand on the spigot, writes AJC:

Mr. Deardorff can only watch as his water costs skyrocket, the unintended consequence of U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations.

“We’re facing a doubling or potential tripling of our water charge because of requirements under the ESA to put in additional fish ladders, reduce streams, provide more water for habitat,” said Deardorff.

Not that those regulations are particularly effective:

Federal ESA regulations are meant to support the “conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats in which they are found,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But these well-intentioned rules simply haven’t worked in the real world: since ESA became law in 1973, a mere 10 of the 1300 species protected by ESA regulations have actually recovered. Effective or not, ESA compliance costs — like paying for fish ladders — are still passed onto farmers like Deardorff, who is at the mercy of ever-changing water regulations.

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