Commonwealth Commentary Newsletter
J. Michael Sharman   J. Michael Sharman     
Mother Goose could teach a lesson to Uncle Sam.
"Don't kill the goose that lays the golden egg" is such a basic principle that toddlers learn it before they even know how to read.
Our government, however, has not yet caught on to that simple concept. For our Commonwealth and for our nation, agriculture is the goose that lays the golden egg of prosperity for the rest of us. Nationally, less than 2% of the US population is on farms, but US Agriculture produces 20% of the jobs and accounts for 16% of the gross national product.  In Virginia, farming provides $34.5 billion for Virginia's economy and creates 418,000 jobs.  For us individually as consumers, the average farmer feeds 132 people, making us the best-fed people in history, with only 10% of our income going to food. (Government, however, costs us 42% of our income.)  Farmers do so well at their work that a bushel of corn costs far less today than it did in the 1920s.
Government policy, however, is cooking its own goose.  National EPA regulations have been endorsed by President Clinton that would limit tiny "airborne particulates".  The rules will, for the first time, regulate particles as small as 2.5 microns, or 28 times smaller than the width of a human hair.  Farms and farm interests are saying that the regulations on particulates will necessarily cause regulations on the simple act of plowing which, of course, raises dust.  The EPA's assurances that these regs won't hurt farming don't ring true, especially after the news that those new regulations have put Culpeper on the federal dirty-air list for the first time.  If a locality is on the list, it must take steps to correct the "pollution:  Since fine dust is Culpeper's "pollution" what else can be done to correct it other than to cut back plowing and haying and other farm activities that cause dust?
Emmett Barker, president of the Equipment Manufacturers Institute says,
"All one needs to do to understand the thought line that the regulators will be following is to look at the (current regulations) that the South Coast Air Quality Management District in California (the Los Angeles area) has put into effect for farmers.  For example, you cannot grind feed for your animals between 2 and 5 p.m. if you observe dust from this operation greater than 50 feet from the source.  If a farmer drives out of a field onto a paved road and leaves mud or dirt or dust or something, well, he is required to sweep that off the highway.  In addition, there are certain requirements on activities that if the particulate matter burden per cubic meter is greater than a certain level, you cannot carry out those agricultural activities in a manner that causes this dust to cross the boundary of your property."
But Uncle Sam isn't the only problem.  A new state law, the Agricultural Stewardship Act, puts all farmers at risk by defining water pollution as "any alteration in the physical, chemical or biological properties of any state waters caused by sedimentation, nutrients or toxins."  And state waters are defined as "all water, on the surface or in the ground, wholly or partially within the boundaries of the Commonwealth."  Since pollution is "any alteration," any Virginia farmer who plows and creates sediment, who pastures cattle and creates nutrients, or who puts herbicides or pesticides on his ground to improve it is now a polluter, even if there is no harm or damage whatsoever.
The strong arm of regulation has also recently reached out to the vendors at the Madison Farmers Market.  The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs regulators stopped by on a bright and sunny Saturday morning and gave the vendors a three page handout on "Approved Methods of Sale," letting them know, for example, that avocados must be sold by count and not by weight but tomatoes can't be sold by count and must be sold by weight or by units of no less than a peck, however, peppers must be sold by weight or count and can't be sold in units of a peck or more.
James Madison was a farmer from this area.  In 1792 he wrote an essay on property rights and said:
"Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions."
We are in an era where the government has a serious case of an excess of power.  We need to put "We the People" back into government and have a common sense return to less government, more democracy, individual freedom, and personal responsibility, and we must do so before we lose our most important resource:  America's farmers.

J. Michael Sharman     

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