Gilbert Stirs Manure Regulation Debate

Brent Finnegan -- August 3rd, 2010

Del. Todd Gilbert fanned the flames of a debate over farmer’s rights and water quality at a Young Farmers expo in Woodstock this past weekend. The Republican delegate from Virginia’s 15th House district criticized legislators’ and regulators’ efforts to reduce farm runoff (animal manure) from the barn to the Bay.

Preston Knight reports for the Northern Virginia Daily:

The biggest issue for agriculture is the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and changing the views of urban legislators who, even with good intentions of providing clean water, blame farmers for all of the bay’s ills, said Gilbert, R-Woodstock.

“It’s totally unwarranted,” he said. “They stand around at wine-and-cheese parties and complain about all these things and restoring the bay … without any regard that agriculture produced the wine and cheese they are sipping on and nibbling on . . .

“You will owe your existence to a bureaucrat in Washington,” he told young farmers.

But if they fight for what they believe in, that threat can be minimized, Gilbert said. Gov. Bob McDonnell is on agriculture’s side and is fighting for farmers’ rights in what may amount to litigation, he added.

Gilbert’s comments were a reaction to what he called “unwarranted” environmental regulations, and legislation such as the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act, currently making its way through the U.S. Senate.

The EPA has said they will more strictly enforce regulations on “nutrient pollution” making its way through Virginia’s waterways, into the Chesapeake Bay. In March, the Washington Post reported that, “in the Chesapeake, runoff from animal manure accounts for about one-quarter of the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that feed ‘dead zones’ downstream.”

15 Responses to “Gilbert Stirs Manure Regulation Debate”

  1. Utility customers from Waynesboro, Elkton, Harrisonburg to Front Royal, and west to Broadway have paid to clean up their sewer discharges. Corporations like Merck and Coors are doing their part. What makes farmers special? Why shouldn’t they also do their part – especially since “non-point” discharges of nutrient-rich farm run-off is the single greatest pollutant to the Chesapeake Bay.

  2. Emmy says:

    They most certainly should pay for the part they play in the pollution. Not only that, but they should pass that cost onto the consumer so that we are forced to evaluate our meat-based diets. Factory farms have got to go and maybe this will be a good first step.

    • seth says:

      i don’t think that most of the farmers i’ve encountered who allow their cattle in the rivers around here (i’m pretty sure there’s a provision saying livestock need to be fenced out of waterways (anyone know for sure?)), aren’t factory farmers. my impression is that they’re smaller guys who find the cost of constructing barriers and providing an alternative water source to be prohibitively expensive with regards to their budgets. i think that what you’ll more likely find is that the big business factory farms will be the ones who will be able to foot the bill for these regs.

      not to say that i don’t think that these regs should be enacted/enforced, just that i don’t think it’s necessarily correct to assume that the big farms are the ones that will take the hit the hardest.

      • Sounds like you’re making an assumption that “farm” means cattle. But the lawsuit filed by Assateague Coastal Trust was against Perdue and a poultry farm.

        I’m curious what your definition of “factory farm” is.

        • seth says:

          not so qualified to distinguish types of farms, just speaking from anecdotal experience re encounters with small farmers who had cows in the river as i tubed by. i only meant to point out that this legislation will affect all farmers and while it’s certainly necessary, there are likely to be some negative effects on big guys and small guys in our local economy.

      • David Miller says:

        Seth, the local extension agents have been helping farmers find grants for these projects at least since we were in High School, we toured some successful projects back when solar was getting cheaper and was being used to pump the water. Whether or not the funding still exists to help farmers, I don’t know. Seems like that would be a form of socialism to me ;) Redistributing my wealth to poor farmers who need to earn a living without ruining everyone’s watershed ;)

  3. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    If I sprayed dangerous waste products in the air over someone else’s farm, it would obviously be illegal. But when farmers release dangerous waste products into our public waterways, they should be protected? What about individual responsibility?

  4. What “farmers” have to recognize is that they were encouraged/assisted/granted/funded with help to clean up their manure discharges, as David says, for decades. Now it’s time to get it done, or get out of the business. They have no “rights” to pollute the Commonwealth. And they knew this day was coming.

    • David Miller says:

      Or we could just approach it as though none of that ever happened and the EPA is a liberal infested bureaucracy that is trying to kill small farmers. Sorry, that was Obenshain’s facebook sentiment “Mark D. Obenshain via Senator Mark Obenshain: EPA proposes to regulate farm dust — did you get that? FARM DUST!!! “

  5. This is part of a full assault on environmental regulation. Doug Domenech, Gov. McDonnell’s new Dept of Natural Resources Secretary recently told Blue Ridge Business Journal:
    “I think one of the most significant challenges we have is our relationship with the [U.S.] Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is really leaning forward in a shocking way with its regulation on the Chesapeake Bay as well as its regulation of greenhouse gasses and mountaintop mining.”

    Domenech runs Virginia’s environmental regulatory agency, yet he sees himself as an adversary of the EPA, and the effort to clean up the Ches Bay. Astonishing.

  6. Tad says:

    The EPA has and always will be the great boogy man of the family farmer. The entire Farm Bureau legislative agenda and by extension its insurance business hinges on distracting farmers with images of pointed headed bureaucrats making them fill out paperwork and fencing their cows out of grandpa’s pond to save some unpronounceable salamander species. The real problem is that farmers are forced to buy all their inputs from a handful of multinational companies and sell their products to a handful of multinational companies. They get it from both directions. The federal and state governments have sanctioned this for decades and Del. Gilbert continues this tradition by wasting his time bemoaning the EPA and its plan to clean up the bay on the backs of farmers. Farmers could afford the environmental upgrades to their farms if the marketplace they existed in was competitive and allowed price discovery. Instead the marketplace tells them to use the stream for a watering trough and add a few more dairy cows to the milking parlor even if the manure collection system isn’t big enough or you don’t have enough acres to spread it on.

  7. republitarian says:

    Tad, how long have you been a farmer?

    • Tad says:

      I was born and raised on a farm in Broadway (34 years). We milked cows until I was about ten years old. We raised sheep for awhile and currently my parents and I run 25 cow/calf pairs on about 45 acres in Broadway. How about you?

  8. Sam Hottinger says:

    The initial article reads “In March, the Washington Post reported that, “in the Chesapeake, runoff from animal manure accounts for about one-quarter of the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that feed ‘dead zones’ downstream.” Where does the other 3/4’s come from? New regulations are taking care of localities with waste water treatment plants. The City of Harisonburg has started the dog poo program to remove pet waste along with several other cleanup programs, and all localities are being hit with new storm water regulations that will ultimately be passed on to the tax payer. Mean while I can walk into the nearest Wal-mart, Home Depot, Lowes, Rocking-r, etc and buy any variety of fertilizer (10-10-10, 10-5-10, etc) to fertilize my beautiful green lawn and no one cares. These fertilizers are made by the same companies that make farmers fertilizers, but the profits are much larger on the 10 pound bag you buy at Wal-mart. Guess which fertilizers they want regulated. When I walk across JMU’s campus and see the amount of fertilizer that they put down in the spring, I am shocked. Yet no one cares, because it is easier and more popular with politicians to hit the farmer or the locality, because people feel like it doesn’t affect them. From my own experience, I can tell you that Georges and Tysons won’t be harmed by the new regulations. They can afford to do just exactly what regulators require them to do and no more. It is the small farmers that are struggling to get started and hold on that will be pushed over the edge. When you look at locally grown food, those farmers are often small and have very small profit margins. They may be the ones that turn out to be the losers. I would love to see some politician or regulating authority step up and take an honest look at what is causing pollution in our streams, and stop playing games by only looking at the politically expedient solutions to the water quality problems that we face and actually try to remove the other 3/4 of the nitrogen and phosphorous in the Bay.

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