Farm Press Blog

Regulations a financial noose for small producers

  • Buttonwillow, Calif., farmer Jason Selvidge says every year state and federal governments pile more and more regulations on agriculture. It appears government is intentionally trying to drive agriculture out of business, he believes.

Over the last three-and-a-half years, the Obama administration has placed a high priority on the success of small-sized family farm operations. USDA has spent a preponderance of the people’s money on campaigns designed to help smaller farmers financially survive.

A mix of small, medium, and large farms is essential not only to help feed and clothe the 312 million people in the U.S., but a burgeoning world population now at 7 million people and expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050.

In my travels across rural California and Arizona this year, I’ve interviewed dozens of producers with operations ranging from a single acre in size to 10,000-plus acres.

One of the questions asked of each producer is what is the No. 1 threat to the economic survival of their operation? Amazingly, about 90 percent say government regulations.

This is above the major year-to-year litany of issues including commodity price, yield, weather, pests and diseases, and other make-or-break issues.

One articulate farmer who shared his thoughts is Jason Selvidge, 40, a fifth-generation producer from Buttonwillow, Calif. He is deeply concerned about the impact of increased government regulations on his family’s operation and agriculture as a whole.

The Selvidge, Tracy, and Frey families — all from the same family tree — operate Buttonwillow Land & Cattle Company, a medium-size farm in Kern County. Crops grown include carrots, potatoes, corn for silage, wheat, cotton, alfalfa, pistachios, and almonds.

Among the long list of regulations which Selvidge is concerned about is California’s Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program designed to regulate discharges from irrigated agricultural lands.

While Selvidge agrees some regulations are necessary, others are unnecessary and cause unwarranted burdens on agriculture.

Selvidge says state and federal governments each year pile more and more regulations on agriculture. It appears government is intentionally trying to drive agriculture out of business, he believes.

Government regulations impact all agricultural-related operations (farms, processors, shippers, etc.) regardless of size. Larger operations often hire employees to strictly work to ensure the farming enterprise complies with government requirements, Selvidge says. The costs are often spread out across the larger operation.

Yet smaller farmers — the same ones government says it wants to protect — are actually hardest hit financially by regulations.

"Everyone loves to hear about small farms and the need for the small family farmer," Selvidge says. "What really happens when government develops regulations and the related rules is overhead costs are driven higher which in turn drives smaller farmers out of business faster. They cannot financially handle the regulations."

As a result, the smaller farmer may sell the operation to a medium- or large-scale operation. Such operations purchase smaller entities to financially survive in a world where, in reality, every producer in the world competes against each other. Margins are extremely tight.

Selvidge’s viewpoint is a real-world reality check; a wake-up call.

To learn how government regulations impact agriculture, ask a producer. You'll get an earful!

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

Ed Brocksmith (not verified)
on Sep 20, 2012

So...let's get rid of regulations for agriculture. Then, we'll see how long it take to ruin our drinkiing water, our streams, lakes and oceans. This includes the farmer's water too! Then what?

Most farmers and ranchers don't want dirty water so why all the whining?

David Weeks (not verified)
on Sep 20, 2012

I'd like to know more: which specific regulations cause the greatest problems for farm business and what problems are they intended to solve. It seems reasonable to think that when regulations are drafted there is too little understanding of how implementation will impact farm businesses of all sizes. The regulators probably have too little information about farm technology and business.

While farmers have to cover increased costs and operational complications due to regulations, it also seems reasonable to me that things happen for a reason. We do have real environmental and food safety problems and costs to farm businesses are not always more important than protecting human health or our shared environment.

How much cost to business is too much? How much damage to the environment is too much?

John Dangereaux (not verified)
on Sep 20, 2012


John (not verified)
on Sep 20, 2012

Most of the laws regarding pesticide use could be eliminated tomorrow with no ill effects to production or the environment. The ill effects would be to the government parasites who administer these programs and to large producers who can handle the expense of regulation better thus giving them an economic advantage.

Chris Grace (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

have you read farmer Joel Salatin's book in 2007 Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front
tells it like it is

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