Much has been written about ongoing water quality stakeholder meetings and who is at the table with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 7, and the Department of Natural Resources  (DNR). Fortunately, Iowa has an open door policy and often sits down and talks with interested persons and groups when they are looking at making a change in policy or regulation.

Understanding all perspectives makes for a commonsense approach and better decision making by the agency. The meetings aren’t formal; they’re designed to seek input from those most affected. Iowa already regulates approximately 8,000 livestock farms, with more than 170 dairy cows, 300 cattle or 750 head of hogs, but it is looking at making some changes to its procedures due to a threatened lawsuit. That is why Iowa Farm Bureau’s perspective was requested.

Iowa Farm Bureau farmers are proud of the progress that voluntary conservation measures have brought to this state in the last 30 years. We know that when it comes to conservation, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach because our landscapes, our farms and our technology continue to evolve and remain as changeable as our weather.

Conservation push

Farm Bureau encourages each farmer to add conservation measures on their farm, but that is just a start. In addition to encouraging each farmer to engage in conservation on their farm, Farm Bureau, as well as other farm organizations, is tasked with assuring our farmer members understand changes to state and federal regulations, to help them meet requirements of Iowa law and the federal Clean Water Act.

As the largest grassroots farm organization in the state, Iowa Farm Bureau represents a wide array of family farmers; crop farmers, cattle farmers, hog farmers, young farmers just out of college, six-generation farmers, even vineyard and tree farmers. Since 98 percent of Iowa farms are family-owned, this diverse group of family farmers expects us to be in the room, at the table, sharing their perspectives when regulatory groups sit down to discuss the vital issue of water quality.

Many at the table

But, we are not the only ones ‘at the table’ and that point has been missing in many recent editorials and stories in this (Des Moines Register) publication. Multiple meetings have been held between the DNR, the EPA and the very groups critical of a solutions-based, collaborative approach to improving water quality. This collaborative plan has been in the works for years, and ICCI (Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement), the Sierra Club and other farm groups have equally shared their laundry list of concerns and opinions on proactive steps to achieve a better environment.

But it is our farmer members who are the primary stakeholder group, tasked with figuring out how to meet new requirements or be penalized by non-compliance. Many factors influence the feasibility of proposed regulations.

Unworkable demands

Clearly, when it comes to water quality, a ‘one-size-fits -all’ approach will not work. We know it would be unworkable and unnecessary for regulators to traipse across all 8,000 of Iowa’s livestock farms just to make sure they document the information in their file, especially when they have already visited many of the largest farms over the past five years.

The greatest impact of the threatened lawsuit is on our state’s small and medium-sized farms that keep their livestock outside and may have challenges in a big rainstorm. The DNR can make reasonable judgments about which farms have the greatest challenges and focus their resources, instead of going on a paper chase that wastes taxpayer dollars.

Commonsense approach

As Governor Branstad’s office clearly stated from the beginning, all regulatory processes seek comment and participation from people who will be regulated. Changes that are practical and have commonsense approaches will lead to better compliance and consumer confidence in the system. Expecting to be the only ones making the invitation list or speaking on the issue, doesn’t usually bring acceptance or compliance. In fact, that’s like trying to build a new school without the input of parents, teachers or students who will use it. That’s hardly a foundation that will stand the test of time.

Iowa Farm Bureau believes in providing our family farmers a solid foundation; the tools they need to embrace changes which will help all of the state improve water quality. Such input takes time, perspective and common sense. Success will be built, one brick at a time.

Hill is president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.