New regulations on water, both at the state and federal levels, could have major implications for agriculture.
“Anything water-related is a big concern,” said Andrew Grobmyer, Agricultural Council of Arkansas  executive vice president at the council’s Aug. 18 board of directors meeting in Marianna, Ark. “A new Arkansas Water Plan is coming and that will mean big changes. I think there will be a lot of different ideas emerging with that plan and we want to be poised to help improve upon and expand the more efficient use of water.”
Earlier this summer the executive summary of the Water Plan was published. Grobmyer urged attendees to “spend some time and go through it, figure out what’s good and bad. I must say, it isn’t as bad as I first feared when we got into this process. However, there are still a lot of questions and concerns I have with the direction it seems to be heading.”
Comments on the plan are being accepted until October “so we’re being active in that. We’re working with commodity groups and other farm advocacy groups on that.”
One of the biggest questions for Grobmyer is language in the plan that provides authority for wells to be condemned. “That wasn’t anything I remember being discussed initially. However, it appeared in the summary and it isn’t clear where they have that authority or would utilize it.
“Also, from the beginning, the fish and wildlife interests have been pushing for reformulating the way we determine stream flows on surface waters. Our biggest concern is the dry months of the summer when water levels may drop. It seems to me the way we’ve done things to date has worked.”
Waters of the U.S.
As for national regulatory battles, the public comment period is open through Oct. 20 for the Waters of the U.S. proposed rule  under the Clean Water Act. “If you haven’t already lodged a complaint about that rule, please do so. The EPA is trying to expand their regulatory authority to go beyond the traditional scope.”
Also speaking at the meeting, Arkansas Rep. Rick Crawford said he wouldn’t be surprised if the comment period for the proposed rule is extended. He also laid out his opposition to the rule.
“I don’t think federal agencies should be allowed to comment during a public comment period,” said Crawford. “I believe they do this because federal agencies use other federal agencies to buttress their argument. … I’ve asked directly if more weight is given to a federal agency during a public comment period than from the public. I believe there is and (the agencies) can’t refute that.”
Another point of contention centers around a Supreme Court opinion -- not a ruling -- that stated if the federal government can demonstrate a body of water has a “significant nexus” to a regulated waterway then it too can be regulated.
“I’m almost certain that you can demonstrate interconnectivity with virtually any water to a regulated waterway,” said Crawford. “There’s so much ambiguity and subjectivity. And they’re basing the entire expansion on ‘significant nexus?’”
Crawford brought up the example of a swimming pool that, following major rainfall, overflows and eventually drains into a regulated river. Provided with the scenario, government officials have told the lawmaker that swimming pools are exempt under the rule.
“Well, swimming pools are exempt as long as they haven’t spilled their banks,” said Crawford. The officials “can’t and won’t clarify their position on that. Is that example a huge stretch? Maybe, maybe not.
“Have you got a tail-water recovery system on your farm? A stock pond? Those are designed to overflow by design. Where does the government authority stop? I don’t think they have any intention of having” a limit. “Waterways of the U.S. is a gross overreach.”
Other council work
As for other council efforts, Grobmyer said the Ag Council Conservation Outreach is a newer initiative. “This is done in light of the water plans and some regulatory efforts by the EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service. There’s a lot going on related to the hypoxia issue in the Gulf of Mexico, endangered species and groundwater use.
“We need to be more active in telling our story, what we’re doing for conservation on the farm. One of the things we’ve done recently is partner with Delta Plastics on an H2O Initiative . That aims to provide best management practices to conserve water. Delta Plastics has made available their PipePlanner (irrigation scheduler) at no cost to the farmer. That’s a huge deal and we will help spread the word.”
As for policy at the state level, “there are a lot of things coming up,” said Grobmyer. “Maintaining the integrity of the promotion boards is a major issue as is working to promote the University (of Arkansas’) Division of Agriculture and its funding needs. While the rest of higher education has seen an increase in funding over the last few years, unfortunately the Division of Agriculture, despite state surpluses, has not.”
The council also “always keep taxes at the forefront. We want to maintain tax benefits that we received in the last legislative session. Those include a grain dryer energy exemption and another for cotton gins.
“We’re also trying to get some movement on scrap-dealing. We’ve been able to get some incremental change but it’s a difficult task because dealers have deep pockets and deal in cash. Hopefully, we can do something to slow the rate of theft off farm operations.”
On the federal front, Grobmyer pointed to a tax-related issue under Section 179 of the tax code governing equipment depreciation. “I imagine Congress will do something on that right before Christmas. It’s very unfortunate that we have to wait for that. Look at what’s happened with John Deere layoffs. I’m sure other equipment dealers are experiencing the same. If Congress doesn’t act, the situation will only get worse.”
The federal fiscal year will end at the end of September. “At some point, Congress will need to pass a continuing resolution to get us through 2015. That covers the whole government and there tend to be a lot of policy riders that are attached. We’ll make sure those are good for agriculture.”
Two trade agreements are currently being negotiated: the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Investment and Trade Partnership (TTIP). “How will those impact agricultural trade? We’ll need to keep monitoring those and work with other commodity groups to keep an eye on what’s happening in Washington, D.C.”