At Monty Collins’ cattle operation near Pleasantville, a rotational grazing system helps protect soil and water quality. A few miles away near Prairie City, Gordon Wassenaar has used no-till farming and a precision sprayer for years to minimize pesticide use and runoff from his soybean fields. We visited both of these Iowa farmers last week, to discuss the collaboration between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and farmers, ranchers and growers all across America.
American farmers are among our nation’s first and finest conservationists. They understand better than anyone that clean water, clear air and healthy soil are the raw materials for agricultural production. From generations of experience, they know that you cannot continually take from the soil without giving back, and they have made incredible strides to protect the land they rely on.
As members of President Obama’s Cabinet, we have worked to ensure close collaboration between the USDA and the EPA. Our agencies share many of the same goals. We want our families to have clean water to drink and air to breathe. We want the nation’s land to remain productive and healthy for our children. And we want to support our nation’s farmers, ranchers and growers so they remain profitable and successful in their work to feed American families and strengthen the American economy.
Last week was our first opportunity to travel together – though we have each been active in our work with the agricultural community. Talking to farmers is everyday work at the USDA, while senior EPA officials have met with hundreds of farmers and ranchers in the past two years. Visiting a cattle and a row-crop operation in Iowa was a great reminder of American agriculture’s incredible productivity, and an opportunity to see first hand the cutting-edge conservation measures American farmers have pioneered over the past decades.
Strides have been made
In the last 30 years alone, our nation’s producers have worked hand in hand with government officials and local conservation groups to reduce soil erosion by more than 40 percent. At the same time, agriculture has gone from being the leading contributor to wetland loss to leading the entire nation in wetland restoration efforts.
The EPA has taken important steps to support not only this conservation work, but also the profitability of American farmers. The Renewable Fuel Standard we finalized last year will encourage farmers to continue to work with industry to innovate and produce clean renewable fuel. It will help secure our nation’s energy future, replacing our dependence on foreign oil with clean, homegrown fuels produced by America’s farmers. At the same time, it will create jobs, and should increase farmers’ income by an estimated $13 billion annually.
Our work with farmers has also allowed us to address some of the misconceptions and myths about the EPA.
For a while, rumors flew around that, under a law passed by Congress, EPA was considering treating spilled milk like an oil spill. This was never the case; in fact, our efforts were focused on exempting dairy producers from regulations that should not apply to them. Thanks to the relationship between EPA and USDA – and work with the dairy industry and the agricultural community – we obtained a formal exemption for all milk and milk products, a change that could save farmers up to $140 million.
Another issue that is subject to myths and misconceptions is the question of farm dust. To be clear: We understand that you can’t farm without dust. But Congress has mandated that we take a look at the science of various pollutants – including particulate matter in dust – every five years. This is something EPA has been doing for decades. And we are in regular communication with farmers and ranchers on this issue.
The collaborative relationship we and our respective agencies enjoy is reflected in our policy. Both the USDA and the EPA are pursuing common-sense standards that will let farmers make the decisions they feel are best for their own operations. If we are going to solve the major environmental challenges of our time – combating climate change, reducing soil erosion, and ensuring an ample supply of clean water for our families and food production – farmers need more than just a seat at the table. They need to help lead the way.