Kentucky Department of Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Ryan F. Quarles visited the Hancock County Career Center last Wednesday to tout Kentucky agriculture. He also mentioned the challenges agriculture faces in this country from environmental activists determined to stop certain agricultural practices.
During his visit, Commissioner Quarles touted the Kentucky Proud program that promotes the diverse agricultural offerings found in the Commonwealth. He said the program now contains over 10,000 producers statewide. He said Kentucky Proud also started efforts to get locally grown produce and commodities into local Kentucky school systems.
Commissioner Quarles also said not only is his job to promote Kentucky agriculture, but to also defend it, especially in Washington, D.C. He said many activists push agendas that hurt not only Kentucky agriculture, but agriculture in general across the nation.
“We are spending more time defending agriculture and keeping the activists out,” Quarles said. “Unfortunately we have a lot of activists from out of state that want to shut down animal agriculture by pushing their own agenda. Kentucky is a livestock state; over half of our farm receipts come from livestock operations.”
Quarles said many activists try to enact environmental regulations that basically end the practice of animal husbandry. He said these activists frame the issue as protect the environment or allow large livestock operations; the issue is framed as an either/or situation.
“Kentucky farmers are very pro environment,” Quarles said.
“We pass our farms down in better shape than what we received them and that is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, there are some activists that think that farmers are responsible for some environmental issues and that simply is not the case.”
Quarles mentioned carbon sequestration and other environmental activities farmers employ to be better stewards of the environment; he said many are not aware of these facts. He said part of his role is to get the correct facts out there for the rule makers so know the reality of what happens on a farm, not what activists claim happens on a farm.
“The vast majority, if not 99.9-percent of our farmers already employ (proposed regulations) on their farms,” Quarles said. “They are already treating their animals well because guess what, you get better productivity from that.”
Commissioner Quarles mentioned the WOTUS issue from several years ago as an example of activists pursuing agendas detrimental to agriculture. WOTUS stands for the Waters of The United States.
The 1972 United States Congress passed the Clean Water Act that forbade the discharge of pollutants from a point source into navigable waters. Over time, regulators interpreted the navigable waters of the United States to include intermittent streams, sloughs and even wetlands as navigable “Waters of the
United States” and subject to federal regulation.
The Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration tried to codify an even stricter definition of navigable “Waters of The United States.” This definition included any tributary or upstream waterway of any navigable body of water that shows physical features of flowing water such as a bed, bank or high water mark, and subject that waterway to federal protection.
For example, Shannon’s slough that starts east of Lewisport and dumps into the Ohio River west of Lewisport meets this definition, though only inches deep and only a few feet wide. The slough cuts through several farm fields on its way to the Ohio River.
“It took three years for American farmers to get that fixed,” Commissioner Quarles said. “It was an EPA power grab that if enacted would allow the EPA to have jurisdiction over the vast majority of American farmland.”
Blackford Creek forms the western boundary of Hancock County, and several large farms and cattle operations exist along this waterway. The Clean Water Act defined Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (cattle farms) as point source dischargers, and required such operations to secure a permit to discharge into a waterway.
Under the strict interpretation the EPA tried to enact under the Obama administration, Blackford Creek would be considered a navigable waterway and subject to regulation.
“There was a proposed regulation that would have treated a pond no differently that the Ohio River,” Quarles said. “That is not right.”
Quarles said he touts various forms of agriculture. He said his department promotes organic farming, traditional farming, GMO technology and non-GMO technology. He said activists started to attack these forms of agriculture.
“Unfortunately some activists are going to the federal court system to try to attack the technology farmers need for weed resistance and higher productivity,” Quarles said. “It can get very technical very quickly.”
By Ralph Dickerson