TheFirstFurrow

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 Stepping Up for Agriculture

The following commentary is by North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten, first published in the Spring 2018 issue of NC Field and Family.

Farm Bureau takes a stand on important issues

For more than 80 years, our Farm Bureau brand has served as a trusted voice on issues impacting the agriculture community. We must remain vigilant concerning the issues and challenges ahead of us in 2018.

Legislatively, we have a strong working relationship with the North Carolina General Assembly and the Governor’s office. We might not always agree on every issue, but I can tell you, they always want to hear from us. The same is true for our U.S. congressional members. We have great relationships with all 13 congressional offices and our 2 senatorial offices. This is a testimony to the strength of this organization and our grassroots leadership.

As the largest and most influential voice for rural North Carolina, we must not be afraid to take big, bold, and active stands on the controversial issues impacting our members. We must be prepared to stand alone if necessary. Our membership and the agriculture community expect Farm Bureau to do what is in the best interests of our farmers, regardless of the consequences.

Thursday, February 1, 2018 Atlantic Coast Pipeline Takes Another Step Forward in North Carolina

On January 26th, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality issued one of the final critical permits needed to begin construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

Responding to the news, North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten said, “North Carolina Farm Bureau and our state’s farmers applaud and thank Governor [Roy] Cooper and his administration for approving the permits that will allow the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to move forward. We believe, and our farmers across the state believe, that natural gas in rural North Carolina is important for advancing our number one industry and certainly it’s important for economic development in rural North Carolina.”

 

What is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP)?
Put simply, the ACP will help deliver natural gas to rural North Carolina. The new pipeline will link North Carolina to the abundant natural gas supplies of the Marcellus and Utica shale regions in the northeast. Traveling approximately 600 miles, the pipeline will move up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. While most of that supply will used for electricity generation, there is sufficient volume to enable local natural gas distribution companies to expand their system to meet the demands of farmers and help drive rural economic development projects.

KEY ACP INFO

  • 600 miles from West Virginia, thru Virginia, ending in Robeson County, NC
  • Provides 1.5 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas
  • 36-inch diameter pipe in NC
  • Expected to provide $7.7 million in local property tax revenues in NC
  • Possibility of $134 million in annual energy cost savings in NC

Why the ACP is good for Agriculture?
As we have discussed before, rural infrastructure initiatives are critical to the success of our rural economy. This is exactly the intent of the ACP – to boost our rural economy. While boosting our rural economies, the availability of natural gas is a key component to growing the State’s largest industry – Agriculture. This is a win-win situation.

Before the pipeline has even been built, the ACP partners are already meeting with farmers to discuss viable areas to extend natural gas to their farms. Access to natural gas provides farmers lower input costs and less price volatility. It’s also a critical component to siting NEW economic development projects. Currently, North Carolina is served by a single interstate pipeline delivering natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico. Adding additional supply from another region of the country provides diversity and competition, leading to the needed lower costs and price volatility. As the state’s largest general agricultural non-profit, a win for North Carolina’s rural economy and our farmers are great reasons to support this economic development project.

The Bottom Line.
North Carolina’s economic development infrastructure is reliant on a modern energy policy that promotes affordable and reliable energy production and delivery while protecting our farmers, landowners, and natural resources. We look forward to the ACP providing a key component to the infrastructure needed to grow our State’s largest industry and fuel rural economic development.

Read the ACP Factsheet on Agriculture

Wednesday, January 24, 2018 The Newest Chapter in the Ongoing Saga of the 2015 WOTUS Rule

It’s no secret that farmers nationwide oppose the Obama Administration’s 2015 Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) Rule. As we’ve written here before, the 2015 Rule would significantly expand the area where the federal government has the authority to regulate water. Why? Because under the 2015 Rule many tracts of land would become newly regulated “waters,” even land that is only wet for a couple of hours after it rains.

If implemented, farmers would have to apply for costly federal government permits to engage in even the most basic farming practices on these lands. And there is no guarantee that those permits would be approved. Accordingly, numerous federal lawsuits were filed in 2015, including one brought by American Farm Bureau, in the hopes of stopping the WOTUS Rule.

On Monday, the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) once again waded into the WOTUS Rule waters, issuing an opinion in one of those lawsuits, National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense (NAM). The Court’s decision wasn’t a blockbuster (or a page turner, for that matter). It merely stated that opponents of the Rule had to file their legal challenges in the federal district courts, not the federal appellate courts. That’s the result the opponents of the Rule were hoping for. So, let’s call it a narrow win for farmers and other landowners.

But, ironically, the Court’s decision may be a double-edged sword. To explain why, we’ve got to look back at those 2015 lawsuits we mentioned above.

Remember that, until Monday, opponents of the WOTUS Rule weren’t exactly sure where to file their lawsuits. Should they file in federal district court or federal appellate court? To hedge their bets, multiple lawsuits were filed in both courts. Of the cases filed in federal district court, most were dismissed by federal trial judges who said they didn’t have authority to hear the challenges because the cases should have been—wait for it—filed in the federal appellate courts! But a district court judge in North Dakota said otherwise and blocked the 2015 Rule from taking effect. However, that ruling only applied to 13 states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Therefore, North Carolina farmers were not protected by the judge’s order.

KEY POINTS

  • SCOTUS ruled legal challenges to the WOTUS Rule must be filed in federal district courts, not federal appellate courts—a narrow win for NC farmers.
  • But the ruling currently blocking the WOTUS Rule from taking effect nationwide was issued by a federal appellate court.
  • Since SCOTUS just ruled that appellate courts don’t have jurisdiction to hear legal challenges to the WOTUS Rule, the nationwide stay issued by the appellate court will go away soon.
  • The Trump Administration is attempting to delay, rescind and replace the WOTUS Rule.
  • Congress could also pass legislation to help the Administration block the Rule.
  • But these efforts are almost certain to be challenged in court.
  • There’s a risk the WOTUS Rule may be in effect in NC sometime in late February or March 2018.

Meanwhile, the cases filed in the federal appellate courts were consolidated in the Sixth Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals. The Sixth Circuit ultimately blocked the Rule from taking effect while it wrestled with the procedural question that SCOTUS answered earlier in the week. Unlike the North Dakota decision, the Sixth Circuit’s order took effect nationwide and it has been in effect since October 2015. As a result, North Carolina farmers haven’t had to comply with the 2015 Rule.

But the nationwide order blocking implementation of the 2015 Rule will go away soon. That’s because, at the end of its Monday opinion, SCOTUS sent the NAM case back to Sixth Circuit, directing it to dismiss the all of the cases challenging the rule. If the Sixth Circuit doesn’t have the power to hear those cases, it can’t continue to block the WOTUS Rule. The process of sending NAM back to the Sixth Circuit will take a little over thirty days. So sometime in late February the national stay that has protected North Carolina farmers from the 2015 Rule will evaporate.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017 5 Questions with Senator Brent Jackson

Brent Jackson was elected to the North Carolina Senate in 2010 and is currently serving his fourth term representing Duplin, Johnston, and Sampson counties. He is the co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations/Base Budget Committee and serves on numerous other committees as well.

Jackson and his wife Debbie are first generation farmers, starting Jackson Farming Company in Sampson County in 1981. They currently grow watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydews, strawberries, pumpkins, corn, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, flue-cured tobacco, occasionally cotton, and various other crops.

Question #1: There are only five North Carolina legislators (about 2% of the General Assembly) who list farming as their occupation. As a farmer, what perspective do you bring to the General Assembly? Conversely, is there anything you’ve learned as a legislator that has given you new perspective on the farm?

There are a wide variety of backgrounds amongst my fellow legislators, and I believe that everyone’s individual and unique experiences are a source of value. As a farmer, I have tried to ensure that my colleagues know where their food comes from and the work that goes into putting food on the shelves. I have also made it a point to stress the goodness of American agriculture and the wonderful and exciting career opportunities that exist, especially for young people.

Question #2: In your opinion, what is the most significant state-level issue facing farmers in North Carolina? And what is one issue that may not be on the front-burner for farmers that you think they need to pay more attention to? Why?

I think there are several main issues that we will have to continue to work on at the state level. The first is labor, although mainly a federal issue and President Trump and Congress are working on a solution. However, it is important that from a state level, we are careful not to pass laws making it more difficult for farmers to use a legal workforce. Without a reliable and legal workforce, crops cannot be harvested.

We must also make sure that our regulatory framework is set up to foster growth in the industry and recognize that one-size-fits-all regulations rarely work in farming. Water rights will continue to be an issue that we must remain vigilant on. It will be important for farmers to make their voices heard as the EPA goes about reviewing and rewriting the Waters of the US (WOTUS) rule.

Farming is a way of life in rural North Carolina, and we must do a good job working with our urban citizens to ensure that rural and urban North Carolina works in harmony.

Another issue that we must tackle to ensure the future of farming is the average of the farmer, which in North Carolina is in the mid-50s. Too many of our children in rural communities are moving off the farm and to the cities. It is crucial that we make sure we inspire the next generation of farmers and expose our children to the career options that the ag industry offers. We must also make sure that we help first-generation farmers overcome the barriers to entry, especially given the price of equipment and land.

Question #3: Obviously, you’re very involved in agriculture policy at the legislature. What is another policy area you spend a lot of time working on?
Wednesday, October 4, 2017 5 Questions with Representative Jimmy Dixon

Jimmy Dixon was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2010 and is currently serving his fourth term representing Duplin and Wayne counties. He chairs the House Agriculture Committee, is Vice-Chairman of Appropriations, and serves on numerous other committees as well. A few years after graduating from Wake Forest University in 1969, working for Procter & Gamble and teaching school, Rep. Dixon returned to his roots in 1973 and started a farming career raising poultry and vegetables for forty one years until his ‘semi-retirement’ in 2014.

His poultry operation grew over the years to raising about 700,000 heavy tom turkeys each year. His main crop production was string beans, cucumbers, and peppers.

He and his wife, Bobby Jean, have five children and six grandchildren.

Question #1: There are only five North Carolina legislators (about 2% of the General Assembly) who list farming as their occupation. As a farmer, what perspective do you bring to the General Assembly? Conversely, is there anything you’ve learned as a legislator that has given you new perspective on the farm?

As a farmer in the General Assembly, I understand that there are many good reasons that we have remained a free nation for these many decades. However, all those reasons combined may not equal the fact that we have been able to feed ourselves and produce an extra amount of safe economical food and fiber to help feed a hungry world.We must never lose the ability to feed ourselves!I have learned as a legislator that the great challenges facing farmers are, in part, twofold. First, government can change the rules in the middle of the game and increase regulations that strangle efforts to be productive. Secondly, special interest groups have leveraged influence within Corporate Board Rooms across the nation that facilitate retail boycott to promote undue regulations and change practices harmful to many safe and well established farming production methods.

Question #2: Has there been one agriculture-related policy provision that you have felt most passionate about, or that you feel would have the most positive impact on farmers?

I think two of the most important legislative actions taken since I have been in the General Assembly are the passage of H405 Property Protection Act passed in 2015 and H467 Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies passed in 2017.I have probably been more passionate about these two bills than any other bills we have passed because of their far reaching positive effect on our ability to unshackle farmers from misguided special interest groups who rely on the sensational and abnormal portrayal of some of our farming practices.

Question #3: What agriculture-related issues are you working on in preparation for the 2018 short session?
Wednesday, August 23, 2017 It’s Time to Ditch the Rule

With Congress back in their districts for August Recess, we thought it’d be a good time to talk about some federal issues that are a high priority for Farm Bureau. This week: WOTUS.

So what is WOTUS? Back in 2015 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) adopted a rule defining the scope of “waters of the US” (WOTUS) protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA). That rule, the WOTUS rule, expands federal authority beyond the limits approved by Congress and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But you may be thinking, ‘didn’t courts strike down the WOTUS rule?’ Yes and no. The rule has never been implemented because it was stayed in both federal district court and a federal court of appeals. But those court orders are only temporary. And while the EPA’s current plan is to eliminate the 2015 rule and work on crafting a better WOTUS definition, environmental activists desperately want to preserve the 2015 land grab.

The impact of the 2015 rule on farmers will be enormous. That’s because the rule effectively eliminates any constraints the term “navigable” previously imposed on the Corps’ and EPA’s CWA jurisdiction, and the list of waters deemed “non-navigable” is exceptionally narrow—providing that few, if any waters, would fall outside federal control. This kind of shift in policy means that EPA and the Corps can regulate any or all waters found within a state, no matter how small or seemingly unconnected to a federal interest.

Thursday, July 27, 2017 Grassroots in Action

Today, possibly while you are reading this, North Carolina Farm Bureau leaders are gathering in Raleigh for 2017’s Policy Review Day. No, we’re not talking about insurance policies, but rather policies that address emerging issues and areas of concern to North Carolina farmers. Things like labor, transportation, property rights, taxes, regulatory reform, and more. It’s a day for NCFB’s farmer members to come together to talk about what’s going on at their farm, and to start figuring out how to solve tomorrow’s problems.Photo by John Lambeth

Wednesday, May 31, 2017 Elk in NC: The Good, The Bad, and The Solution

By North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten

The old saying goes that ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ There is plenty of truth to that, and as one of the largest land-owning groups in the state, farmers understand this maxim better than most.

This bit of wisdom is at the heart, both literally and figuratively, of a dispute that has been bubbling over in western North Carolina communities for several years now, and is beginning to come to a head. It centers on the reintroduction and management of elk on federal land in the Appalachian Mountains.