A Positive Slant on Regulation
By Marguerite Tan, Arizona Farm Bureau YF&R Chair and Environmental Manager for Farmer John
Every day, the ever-evolving regulatory burden on agriculture increases. We read article after article about the doom and gloom of regulations, and I often hear, “When will the regulations stop?”
I’ll stick my neck out here and say, “I believe in reasonable and implementable regulation.” Here's why: Regulations are a by-product of our advancements in agriculture, and thus change continually. Regulations spur innovation, giving us the knowledge and technology to improve our production practices and become better environmental stewards.
When I was growing up, nitrogen was good and more nitrogen was better. Water quality regulation forced producers to decrease nitrogen use. Agriculture advanced because of these regulations. Variable rate and GPS technologies were developed, which led to advancements in application and precision-farming technology, including my best friend: autosteer (the only reason I can plant a straight corn row!). Spurred by regulation, we have reduced chemical and fuel use, reduced production costs, and improved yields and soil quality through site-specific field management and reduced soil compaction (which increases the soil’s ability to hold water and nutrients).
Being raised in the Midwest, I remember ? not fondly ? walking beans in the summertime. Back then, we used a lot of chemicals and labor to do a not-so-great job of controlling weeds. Roundup technology was the answer to increasingly stringent agriculture chemical regulations. Roundup replaced herbicides that had the potential to contaminate water, controlled the spread of noxious weeds, prompted no-till and reduced-tillage practices that reduced soil erosion (which, among other things, reduced sedimentation in our waterways), decreased labor and fuel costs, and minimized soil compaction. Roundup also stuck to the field if we had an untimely rain shower after application, reducing chemical run-off and saving us the time, cost, and soil-compaction of re-application.
Because of regulation, mortality composting has become a common practice over the past 10 years. Incinerator air quality regulation, water quality regulation associated with burying mortalities, and lack of renderers stimulated research on how to efficiently and effectively compost mortalities on-farm. Composting proved itself beneficial to producers by being cost effective and creating a nutrient-rich by-product that improves soil structure.
We are entering a new era of regulations, with green house gas emissions leading the charge. Although I could argue that anyone with a pulse produces these emissions, new regulations are heavily focused on agriculture. Unfortunately, regulations tend to precede reasonable and implementable technology. However we can change that. It’s our responsibility as producers and agriculturalists to become involved in the legislative and rule-making processes to ensure developing regulations are reasonable and implementable at the farm level.
Agriculture has always and will continue to overcome adversity through innovation. Regulations can be challenging, but they provide new opportunities and spur innovation; we should be proud of our regulations, they are a road map of where we have come from and provide incentive to develop better ways to operate. Agriculture has flourished since the dust bowl 80 years ago; we will not only survive, but thrive in this new era of regulations.
Key words: Agriculture in Arizona, Arizona agriculture, Arizona farmers and ranchers.