September — the time of the year that usually brings the first hints of fall. While the days were still hot, and the majority of harvest delayed, farmers received three pieces of good news.
Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced plans to repeal the controversial 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule. This was a victory for landowners across the nation — and a long one in the making.
Illinois Farm Bureau has spent years advocating for the repeal of this Obama-era rule. It was seen, plain and simple, as a regulatory nightmare that created nothing but uncertainty for farmers unsure of where federal control begins and ends on their land.
While the intent behind the rule was to improve water quality — a priority Illinois farmers are actively involved in through ongoing efforts such as the statewide nutrient loss reduction strategy — the regulation ultimately proved to violate the authority of the Clean Water Act, as ruled by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia in September.
This ruling, which also held that the WOTUS rule was substantially and procedurally unlawful, was a key step for federal review and following repeal announcement just days later.
Agriculture groups across the country celebrated the news. It was encouraging to see the end of the first chapter of the repeal-and-replace process.
Farmers need certainty. We look forward to working on the next chapter to ensure a fair and reasonable substitute that protects our water and our ability to work and care for the land.
More encouraging news: Progress has been made on the trade front with the nation’s fourth-largest trading partner — Japan.
President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe negotiated an initial trade agreement that would further open markets for both countries, with agriculture among the biggest beneficiaries. This is the kind of win that Illinois agriculture has been asking for.
This positive step will not only strengthen our relationship with Japan — this is a move that will hopefully show that we as a country can come to the negotiating table and hash out a deal that is beneficial for both sides. Will other trade deals follow suit?
We strongly hope this can create momentum for Congress to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The noise from possible impeachment proceedings does not in any way help our cause to get the USMCA agreement ratified — but we will not quiet down our need for fair trade with our closest neighbors.
Illinois Farm Bureau is also staying vocal about another issue: A national call to reform USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service compliance programs.
We are working closely with the American Farm Bureau Federation as it drives efforts to reveal the long history of this issue. Farmers are being denied due process as part of an abuse of discretion by the NRCS, according to a ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
AFBF, in a five-page letter, highlighted the ruling with the story of an Indiana family farm that has been in a legal battle with USDA for 17 years regarding a potential wetland violation.
The court found that NRCS wrongly accused the family of harming a non-existent wetland on their property, but made no effort to correct the record even after the accusations were shown to be groundless.
IFB shed light on the issue with a similar story of one of our own. Macon County’s Kurt Wilke spent nine years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight the government’s insistence there was a wetland on his family’s farm.
Wilke’s story is representative of other farmers’ struggles and why IFB supports AFBF’s call for reform. We’ve called on USDA Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue to put an end to the abuse.
All in all, September was a month to remember. I pray for a good rain for those of us whose crops need it and drier soils for those who don’t. Stay safe during this extended harvest.