FB president offers some food for thought

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Dear Editor:

Agriculture is an integral part of our daily lives. As consumers, we have become accustomed to a safe and abundant food supply. As producers, we have been blessed with natural resources and a climate which yield a bounty among the most diverse in the nation. And as a state, one out of every five jobs is directly related to agriculture, making it our number one industry.

Having said this, it has become necessary to seek legislative changes which further protect modern agricultural practices and the increasing interaction between producers and the public. The Missouri Farm and Food Preservation Act of 2007 (MFFPA) does two things: 1) it requires that regulation of production agriculture take place at the state and federal levels; and 2) it provides a greater firewall for agricultural producers from frivolous nuisance lawsuits.

Like other states, Missouri has a "Right to Farm" law which has shielded farmers and ranchers from lawsuits in which their operations may be deemed a nuisance to others. Unfortunately, population growth in many areas of the state has led to an increasing number of complaints about odor, noise, lights and even dust. While every producer understands the importance of being a good neighbor, there are some things inherent to our industry.

Since our Right to Farm law was passed in 1982, agriculture has changed in many ways. Over the past 25 years Missouri farms and ranches have become larger in size, require greater capital investment, utilize more technology and produce increased yields. Our Right to Farm law needs to recognize this evolutionary process and be updated to provide a greater firewall for agricultural producers who wish to diversify, expand or modernize their operations. The law does not, and should not, insulate any agricultural operation from negligent conduct.

The MFFPA will also protect our state's farmers and ranchers from a dangerous trend which began more than a decade ago. In 1996, Pettis County was the first in the state to approve a new layer of regulation disguised as a county "health" ordinance.

Today, 16 Missouri counties have adopted so-called health ordinances. These health ordinances, a smokescreen for agricultural zoning, allow county commissioners or county health commissioners to impose new regulations and fees on agricultural operations under the guise of protecting human health.

Why would anyone object to a local ordinance protecting human health? First, production agriculture is already regulated heavily at the state and federal level. Farmers and ranchers already comply with a myriad of laws and regulations designed to protect human health, the environment and even wildlife. Second, there is no scientific evidence to support what can best be described as the modern-day equivalent of taxation without representation--regulation without justification. Third, most county governments simply do not have the technical expertise or available staff resources to develop and enforce scientifically sound regulations for agriculture. Yet, no one disagrees that county officials must have the ability to provide input to state and federal agencies as permits and regulations are considered.

Up to this point, health ordinances have targeted animal agriculture. But what is to stop a county from enacting a health ordinance dictating the conditions under which cattle can be weaned or vaccinated, the hours a tractor can be operated or the amount of particulate matter (dust) that can be emitted from your combine?

The MFFPA is supported by a broad coalition of Missouri agricultural organizations, including the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation, Missouri Corn Growers Association, Missouri Soybean Association, Missouri Cattlemen's Association, Missouri Pork Association, Missouri Dairy Association, MFA Incorporated, Missouri Agribusiness Association, Missouri Egg Council, Missouri Poultry Federation, FCS Financial, Progressive Farm Credit, Macon County Ag Alliance, Missouri Forest Products Association and the Friends of Agriculture in Marion County.

Missouri agriculture is a success story that impacts each and every one of us. Yet, without added protection from nuisance lawsuits and the growing patchwork of county health ordinances production agriculture will suffer irreparable harm. Passage of the MFFPA will help assure the viability of this great industry not only today but for those who hope to follow in our footsteps.

Charles Kruse

President of the

Missouri Farm Bureau

Jefferson City, Missouri