Farmers, Farm Bureau Fight Buffers at House Hearing

from WA State Farm Bureau


Olympia, WA - With the opposite house policy committee cutoff date of March 30 looming, dozens of exasperated farmers crowded into a standing-room-only hearing room this week as the House Local Government Committee heard testimony on SB 5248. 

As introduced and passed by the Senate, the bill would protect legally existing agricultural activities from new regulations under the Growth Management Act. 

Existing laws would remain in place. Below is a partial listing of existing state and federal regulations that currently regulate agricultural activities and would remain in place under this legislation.

The Shoreline Management Act currently protects legally existing agricultural activities from new regulations under that act. SB 5248 would extend that same protection to the GMA.

One of the central goals of the GMA is to "maintain and enhance natural resource-based industries, including productive timber, agricultural, and fisheries industries. Encourage the conservation of productive forest lands and productive agricultural lands, and discourage incompatible uses."

Buffers that remove land from farming and drive farms out of business are certainly "incompatible uses" and do nothing to "maintain and enhance" agriculture, as directed by the eighth goal of the GMA.

Rather than protect legally existing agricultural activities, some want to have a two-year "timeout" from new regulations while people talk about the issues at the Ruckelshaus Center. The center is intended to facilitate negotiations on public policy matters.

The House committee removed the bill language that provides ongoing protection of legal agricultural activities and inserted language to provide the two-year time out from new regulations.

Farm Bureau has met almost daily with lobbyists from environmental organizations, legislators, and other people involved in this legislative issue.

We have agreed that discussions at the Ruckelshaus Center could produce programs and legislative proposals that would be beneficial to both the environment and farm viability. We have been clear, however, that a timeout from new regulations, as is proposed in the current versions of both SB 5248 and HB 2212 (passed earlier by the Senate Government Operations Committee), will send a signal to many farmers that new regulations are coming and that they have two years to get out of farming.

Many farmers brought maps and aerial photos of their farms to show how proposed wide buffers next to streams and wetlands would devastate their farming operations. 

The latest bill language does not give farmers the certainty they need to keep farming. 

If you just give farmers two years, a lot of folks will see this as a signal that the end is near and they have two years to get out of agriculture. That will have the opposite affect of what we are trying to accomplish with this legislation and the GMA. 

Farm Bureau will continue meeting with the parties involved to seek legislation that provides certainty to farmers and that will provide opportunities to craft programs that enhance agriculture and the environment at the same time.

Protecting the environment and protecting farms can be done. Farmers do it every day.

Partial list of federal requirements on farmers:
  • Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) -- pesticides
  • Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) -- three agencies, pesticides
  • Transportation and Safety Act -- transporting/moving pesticides
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) -- pesticides notification, etc.
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)-- solid waste 
  • Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act (FACT) -- pesticide records
  • Endangered Species Act (ESA) -- actions/activities affecting endangered/threatened species, including fish, fowl, animals, and plants. Includes county level rules for pesticide use. 
  • Clean Water Act (CWA) -- point/nonpoint pollution
  • Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
  • U.S. Corps of Engineers -- jurisdiction over near-water activities and Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899
  • USDA acreage reporting to Farm Service Agency, swampbuster, and sodbuster rules

Partial list of state requirements on farmers:

  • Washington Pesticide Control Act and associated WACs
  • Washington Pesticide Application Act and associated WACs, licensing, testing and recurrent training, relicensing requirements.
  • State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA)
  • Shorelines Management Act -- on-going ag practices exempt, changes to practices, building and remodeling are not.
  • Air Quality -- ag burning, health hazards dust, smoke, etc.; regional clean air authorities.
  • Flood Plain Management
  • Coastal Zone Management
  • Composting and Solid Waste -- rules and regulations, carcass disposal rules.
  • Wetlands -- some federal exemptions, but not in Washington
  • Water resources -- irrigation rules, water rights
  • Instream flows -- some water rights are going to be curtailed starting in 2007.
  • Water quality -- point/non-point farming practices, nutrients
  • Ground water quality -- exceeds federal laws
  • Hydraulic project approval (HPA) -- Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, irrigation pumping standards, flood/erosion protection, RCW 77
  • Diking and Drainage Districts -- RCW 85 
  • Total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for water bodies -- restrictions on farming practices
  • National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) -- animal agriculture is allowed no discharges, while industry/municipalities are.
  • Dairy Nutrient Management Act -- mandatory, one of strongest in nation
  • Dam Safety -- ponds and lagoons
  • Livestock nutrient management planning -- not required, many are going voluntarily
  • Wastewater rules-- affect some ag operations, produce and bulb-washing permits
  • Watershed planning -- more rules and restrictions?
  • Forest Practices Act (FPA) -- many farms have woodlots
  • Trapping ban and WDFW rules -- nuisance animal control
  • Growth Management Act (GMA) -- unequal treatment between counties, right to develop is a big issue in non prime ag counties, density mandates so that family members cannot live on the farm, etc.
  • Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plans (RMAP)
  • Weed control



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