The Fly Over States is a hit country song by Jason Aldean that sings the praises of the Midwestern farming states which are often overlooked and considered states that folks from the east and west coasts simply fly over. The on-line Urban Dictionary describes them as, “Any boring and unremarkable state that has to be flown over to get to interesting states such as California and New York.” But now the term “fly over states” may have a new meaning. It may refer to states where the federal government is engaging in aerial surveillance of livestock operations. Sound like the plot of a conspiracy theory movie? The problem is, it is true and has become an issue in the Farm Bill debate.
The Environmental Protection Agency has been using Military aircraft to do aerial recognizance over Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). On July 2, EPA Region 7 staff hosted an informational meeting in Lexington, NE for livestock producers about the agency’s inspection program for CAFOs. Federal officials say the inspections are part of an increased national emphasis on ending harmful discharges of pollutants from CAFOs into rivers and streams. This meeting came only after Nebraska Senator and former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns tried to attach an amendment to the Senate Farm Bill that would have halted the flights. The amendment was defeated due to strong opposition by Calfornia Senator Barbara Boxer who said the CAFOs represented a public health threat and needed to be monitored. Johanns’ amendment only required the EPA to halt the flights until they explained to farmers why they were doing the flights and what they were looking for. According to Johanns, the EPA has refused to provide an explanation of their actions.
Flyover inspections of feedlots began in Nebraska in 2011, according to an article in the Omaha World Herald. It stated that the area around Lexington has one of the highest concentrations of livestock feed yards in Nebraska and that EPA officials claim that the central part has a higher concentration of polluted rivers and streams than the rest of the state. Yet, Nebraska state officials are upset over the EPA actions. Nebraska Agriculture Director Greg Ibach told me EPA had contracted with Nebraska agencies to regulate and monitor CAFOs but now they were going around state officials by dong their own surveillance. Farmers in the area are not happy with the fly overs. “For me, it just creeps into the `Big Brother is watching you’ area, to where the government just feels like it’s getting more and more intrusive,” Buck Wehrbein, who manages a cattle feeding operation in Mead, NE told the Associated Press. The flights are being done in small planes filled with EPA staffers. The staffers take photographs as they seek evidence of illegal animal waste running off into rivers and streams. Farmers are upset that these flights are being done when there is no evidence of regulations being violated and that some of the flights are taking place over farms that are not even regulated under EPA standards.
This is just the latest in a long list of aggressive actions being taken by the federal government targeted toward agriculture. This is particularly ironic since the farm economy is about the only sector of the economy that has been doing well. Yet, these regulations will hurt the productivity and profitability of US farmers. We are already seeing this happen in other sectors of the economy. Inside Indiana Business reported recently that small business owners had less optimism about the future because of the increasing number of regulations and taxes being implemented. According to the report, there are over 400 new regulations set to be implemented and massive tax hikes that could go into effect at the end of the year. This has kept many businesses, large and small, from hiring new workers and expanding operations. Is it any wonder our economy continues to sputter?
As I write, I have just returned from spending time at one of Northeast Indiana’s finest county fairs. Here I saw multi-generation farm families showing livestock and working to improve their operations. The last thing they need is the heavy hand of government telling them what to do or spying on them from above. The vast majority of farmers do things right and respect and protect the environment. Over the past 8 years, the state of Indiana has proven that a pro-growth approach to agriculture can improve farm production and income without an adverse impact on the environment and without the need for punitive and burdensome regulations.
As Jason Aldean sings, the bureaucrats in Washington “…never drove through Indiana, Met the men who plowed that earth, Planted that seed, busted his ass for you and me.” We need to send a strong message to Washington that the overregulation of American agriculture and American business needs to stop.
by Gary Truitt