With the changes in Congress as a result of last November’s elections and groundwork already being laid for the 2012 presidential race, the next two years are going to be “extremely challenging” in terms of environmental issues, says Andy Whittington.

“A lot of people are drafting papers and pushing the president to circumvent Congress and use executive orders to enact changes in pesticide regulations, the Clean Water Act, nutrient use and runoff, and other environmental programs,” he said at the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting.

“We’re going to be watching all of this very closely to try and prevent more stringent rules from being passed,” said Whittington, who is MFBF’s environmental specialist.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and other organizations are concerned that the Clean Water Restoration Act would significantly expand the government’s jurisdiction, with a negative impact on farmers and local governments and economies.

Terming the act “regulatory overkill,” AFBF maintains that by replacing the terminology “navigable water” with “interstate waters,” it would give the government control over farming activities in fields adjacent to regulated waters, which could include even drainage ditches.

“We’ve been fighting this battle for three years,” Whittington says.

Noting that Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., head of the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was defeated in the November elections, Whittington says new House committee chairmen and a change in House majority will require a continuing close watch on the regulatory arena.

He says Farm Bureau will be working closely with National Resource Conservation Service officials at the national and state levels, as well as producers, to analyze the efficacy of current NRCS programs and to make recommendations as to how they can be improved.

“It’s critical that we have funding for conservation programs in order to assist with meeting the requirements of various EPA programs, including nutrient management.”

Whittington says that while Farm Bureau takes an active role in legislation by filing comments on behalf of its membership, “comment from individual members still carry a lot of weight with members of Congress and the administration, and we very much encourage this input.

Agriculture needs to do everything it can, he says, to counter attempts by “people who’ve never been off concrete and who have absolutely no idea what farmers do or how food is produced” to impose rules that would limit farming productivity.

An ongoing challenge for agriculture, Whittington says, is “finding ways to comply with the directives of government programs if no funding is provided to carry them out.”

hbrandon@farmpress.com