Feds Wrong, But Still Win

Results of a pair of California judicial rulings going back as far as two decades indicates plowing and deep ripping may violate federal environmental laws in some instances.

While results from these snafus aren’t necessarily conclusive when it comes to banning plowing, the precedents worry many farmers and ag groups. They maintain these rulings could require farmers to obtain costly and time-consuming permits to work their land. Even for no-tillers who don’t see the benefits of plowing, there are concerns about the government’s role in agriculture.

$45 Million in Penalties?

In 2012, John Duarte, who owns Duarte Nursery in Modesto, Calif., bought 450 acres near Red Bluff in northern California. Because the property included a few wetland acres, Duarte hired a consulting firm to map out areas that were not to be plowed. While a few wetlands areas were accidentally worked to a depth of 4-7 inches, there was no significant damage.

So Duarte was totally surprised when he faced a $2.8 million fine for failing to get a permit for plowing before seeding wheat. Duarte sued the Army Corps of Engineers and the California Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control board, maintaining they violated his constitutional right of due process by issuing cease and desist orders that kept him from harvesting the wheat. The U.S. Attorney’s Office countersued to enforce the Clean Water Act violation, despite the fact that farmers plowing their fields are exempt from the rules.

Faced with immense legal and business risks and a government threat…

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Frank Lessiter

Frank Lessiter has served as editor of No-Till Farmer since the publication was launched in November of 1972. Raised on a six-generation Michigan Centennial Farm, he has spent his entire career in agricultural journalism. Lessiter is a dairy science graduate from Michigan State University.

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