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Don't be a frog in a pot on land rights
Grass is always greener...
Don GardnerColor
Don Gardner is an ag and natural-resources agent for the University of Georgias Glynn County Extension. - photo by File photo

If you put frogs in a cooking pot of cool water and slowly turn up the heat, the frogs won’t notice the increase in temperature and will not try to escape — until they can’t, because they have been cooked.  

There was a time they could have escaped by jumping out of the pot, but they didn’t take action because they never realized things were getting hotter. Or they didn’t accurately interpret what being invited for dinner really meant.

The Farm Bill before last had a number of new and expanded programs. The Farm Bill was not just for cattlemen and row crops anymore; it had programs that allowed every farmer to qualify for some sort of federal assistance. Isn’t that great?! Every square inch of a farmer’s land could qualify for one federal assistance program or another. What a wonderful, caring government!  

The objective of that Farm Bill was to ensure  that the federal government, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, could regulate and control every square inch of farmland in the country. It succeeded with very little objection. Now that the farmers all climbed into the pot, the next step could be to use the programs and their funding to nudge farmers to grow the crops the government wants grown.

Allowing farmers to self-determine what crops they grow using old thinking based on things like market prices could result in unwanted consequences. Based on what I have already seen, try this on for size: Cotton is a symbol of the Old South, and we should stop growing it in the United States. Besides, we are competing with poor people around the world who grow cotton. We need less U.S. cotton and more imported cotton. Let’s do away with cotton support prices and crop insurance for cotton growers — that should convince them.

Restricting how many acres of a crop are being grown is not a new concept. It was the standard for growing tobacco for decades. A tobacco allotment was a farm’s profit center and the bigger, the better. Same tool, different mechanic.

The federal government already owns almost 30 percent of land in the U.S. Now, it controls all the private farmland. Not content with just one tentacle of the federal government controlling private farmland, another tentacle, the Environmental Protection Agency, has decided to turn up the heat with its new Waters of the United States rule. Under the new rule, 99 percent of the land area of Pennsylvania and Montana would fall under EPA jurisdiction, while 100 percent of Virginia would. Not just farm land — all land, as in your actual, literal backyard in your residential subdivision.

Thirteen states joined together to sue the federal government to stop implementation of the new rule, led by North Dakota. On Aug. 27, just hours before it was to go into effect on Aug. 28, the WOTUS rule, which EPA calls the Clean Water Rule, was blocked by the U.S. District Court of North Dakota. EPA countered that the stay applied only to the 13 Colonies — err, states — participating in the suit and that it intended to begin implementing the new rule in the 37 remaining states until the suit was settled.

On Oct. 9, an Ohio federal appeals court ruled in favor of 18 additional states, including Georgia, and granted a nationwide stay of the new WOTUS Clean Water Rule.

That’s a stay, not a defeat. Thirty-one frogs are trying to jump out of the pot, but 19 others are still hanging around in the hot tub because it smells like soup for dinner.  

OK, so why should you care? Hmmm. We have done a good job of cleaning up point-source pollution. I know; I am from Cleveland, and I speak Cuyahoga River. Now, we have these huge federal and state bureaucracies with nothing to do. Why, let’s put them to work on non-point-source pollution. How do you do that? Build water-treatment plants to treat and clean the water that comes down storm sewers before it gets to the rivers, streams and marshes. That is incredibly expensive and a nightmare to enforce. Sounds like a job for — ta ta ta daaaa! — bigger government!

And how do we pay for that? We create stormwater utilities and charge everybody for the rainwater that runs off their land. But to do that, we need to have the legal authority to control their water. We have done that in the western U.S. The precipitation that falls on your land out west is not your precipitation. That belongs to the government, and it decides who gets what water and how it gets treated.  

Oh, but we can trust the government to do what is best. Really? Ask the farmers of the San Joaquin Valley in California about how fairly water is allocated. They used to be in America’s bread basket. Think it can’t happen here? Based on what exactly?  

Are you going to do something or are you going to wait to be served up as lunch?

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