Thursday, July 05, 2012

My Thoughts on EPA Fly-overs

In the last few weeks, there have been recurring, and sometimes wildly inaccurate news stories about the Environmental Protection Agency's "fly-overs." The bottom line is that the EPA sometimes uses planes to fly over large livestock operations such as feedlots to see whether there are violations of environmental laws, such as the improper discharge of animal waste into a waterway. The EPA also does periodic flyovers to check other businesses such as power plants. The aerial check is cheaper and is often the best way to see the full picture.

The Washington Post covered the story in its article, Midwest ranchers, congressmen protest EPA flyovers that look for livestock waste problems.

As noted in the Post article, some farmers and ranchers and their representatives in Congress have protested, and a bill was even proposed that would ban the flights over farms. Ranchers argue that it is intrusive, even "creepy" to have "big brother" watching.  I'd like to suggest otherwise.

Fly-overs provide the best view of agricultural operations. Pilots in small planes fly over farmsteads, take pictures, and then sell them to farm families on a pretty regular basis. We have purchased many of these pictures of our farm over the years. I love to see the changes from year to year.

Farmers, their advisors, and their consultants do flyovers all the time to check crop conditions. Ranchers use flyovers to check their cattle on the range. The picture to the left is our farm, as shown on google maps.

The USDA Farm Service Agency takes aerial photos of row crop farming operations regularly, as they have for years. A farmer can go into the local office and get the photos. They are used to certify acreage for farm program payments, and yes, they sometimes can be used to check compliance with conservation program requirements.

The EPA fly-overs are no big deal.

Aerial checks can and should be used to see whether businesses comply with the law. It is the cheapest, most efficient, and most effective way to assure compliance.

All the many, many farmers and ranchers that do the right thing and do their best to protect the environment should WANT the government to do these checks. When a business is able to violate the law and go undetected, all of the businesses that are in compliance suffer. The businesses that comply are forced to compete against the "cheaters" who short-circuit laws to lower their cost of production. When "cheaters" get caught, it levels the playing field for all businesses.

Finally, when farmers and ranchers again argue that people should not be able to see what they are doing, it only makes them look like they have something to hide.


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