Laying Down the Law:
A Guide to Farmers’ Rights and Responsibilities
Can I apply manure in winter?” “What do I do if someone turns me in for herbicide drift?”
Farmers with questions like these now have an online resource they can turn to for answers that are both easy to find and easy to read.
Organized in a question and answer format, the “Iowa Farmer’s Legal and Regulatory Guide to Environmental Issues” website is intended to be a “one-stop shop,” to help farmers navigate the issues and figure out, “What are my rights and responsibilities? And how can I find more information?”
The guide is compiled by the Drake Agricultural Law Center under the direction of Neil Hamilton, one of the nation’s leading authorities on ag law. Established by Hamilton more than 30 years ago, the Law Center was the first of its type in the country. In addition to educating attorneys to assist their ag clients, the Law Center also provides education to farmers, landowners and other members of the public.
In 1990 Hamilton oversaw the publication of an important guide, What Farmers Need to Know about Environmental Law, written under a grant from the Iowa Soybean Promotion Board, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Corn Promotion Board and Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.
When the Iowa Soybean Association’s Environmental Programs and Services (ISA EPS) team found a growing need to provide farmers with an online tool to learn more about the environmental laws and regulations that impact their operations, it was natural to turn once again to Hamilton.
Funded by the soybean checkoff and Congressional allocations through NRCS, the website is a practical response to a practical need. NRCS State Resource Conservationist Marty Adkins says, “If producers are going to operate successfully, they must know the legal and regulatory environment they’re working in. The more they know, the better decisions they can make regarding the environment and how it relates to keeping their farm profitable.”
Ed Cox, a fellow at Drake Ag Law Center who also practices law in Missouri, wrote much of the website’s content on soil conservation and land use regulations.
Cox says, “People speculate about government regulations and whether they are good or bad, but they are a fact of life, and people need to know how laws affect their business so they can be compliant. In addition, the website also includes information about incentive programs provided in the law that farmers can benefit from.
“The goal was to make the content reader friendly and not written in legalese, though some degree of legal terminology must be included for it to be informative and useful,” Cox adds.
The website is meant as a reference tool, aimed to fill a gap by assembling information, making it available and understandable to nonlawyers, and pointing them in the direction of more information. But Hamilton cautions, “It is not a substitute for a person’s attorney. We don’t know the facts of a particular situation, but the information we provide can probably tell enough for a farmer to know if they have an issue and need to contact an attorney.”
The website can be especially helpful for farmers involved in ISA’s CEMSA (Certified Environmental Management Systems for Agriculture). Based on ISO 14002 EMS (Environmental Management System) and NRCS’s nine-step conservation planning process, CEMSA is an adaptive management tool to help farmers establish framework to profitably address environmental issues and concerns in their operations. Through CEMSA, each farmer and his trained technical service provider design a custom-fit action EMS plan that incorporates the evaluation of data to measure soil, nutrient, pest and energy management.
ISA Technical Assistance Manager Martha Zwonitzer and other trained CEMSA staff currently work closely with more than 250 participants to develop management plans. They use that information to improve the farmer’s efficiency and profitability.
NRCS criteria are often used as the basis for a scoring advantage in the competitive evaluation of EQIP grant applications, as farmers are asked to provide documentation that previous conservation activities have met NRCS quality criteria.
One section of completing the CEMSA process requires farmers to address the legal, regulatory and other issues they face in their particular operations and show that they are staying abreast of environmental issues. Before the development of the new website, CEMSA staff followed a tracking system that monitored ag-related laws, but wasn’t conducive to farmers using it. This website is a response to that need.
Whether a farmer is involved in CEMSA or not, the website offers a wealth of useful, easy-to-use information. As Zwonitzer notes, “Most farmers want to do things in a responsible manner, but laws are so complex and change so fast that navigating them is difficult. We hope this site will assist them.”
Find the online “Iowa Farmer’s Legal and Regulatory Guide to Environmental Issues” at www.iasoybeans.com/environment/legal/
Learn more about CEMSA at www.iasoybeans.com/environment/category/tags/cemsa
Among the topics addressed on the “Iowa Farmer’s Legal and Regulatory Guide
to Environmental Issues” website are:
- Air quality
- Animal production
- Fuel storage
- Land use law
- Manure management
- Soil conservation (covering federal and Iowa information, and including CRP, CSP, EQIP and related programs)
- Water quality
- Water use