Updates & Reviews

May 16, 2016 — by: Family Farm Alliance

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Representatives from a grassroots coalition of Western family farmers and ranchers have been asked to testify on three water-related policy matters before three separate congressional committee hearings tomorrow on Capitol Hill.

“This is definitely a first for our organization,” said Family Farm Alliance President Patrick O’Toole, a cattle and sheep ranchers from Wyoming. “While we certainly have a very hectic and important day coming up tomorrow, our presence is a testament to the command the Family Farm Alliance has of the relevant issues facing agriculture in the West.”

Mr. O’Toole will appear before the House Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee tomorrow, May 17. He was asked to provide the Alliance perspective on regulations facing farmers and ranchers and conservation opportunities. Click here for Mr. O'Toole's testimony and attachment.

“There are many critical issues that the Western family farmers and ranchers we represent are confronted with at this time,” said Mr. O’Toole. “At the top of the list is the daunting number of federal regulatory policy initiatives that we face. I intend to provide some background at the hearing that will describe the unique nature of Western agriculture and water. I’ll do my best in the time allotted to summarize key concerns we have with just a small sampling of the administrative regulatory proposals we are grappling with.”

Since the mission of the Family Farm Alliance is water-focused, the emphasis in his testimony will similarly place more attention on those regulations that can impact water use for Western farmers and ranchers. However, his testimony is also intended to demonstrate the conservation and open-space benefits provided by Western farms and ranches, and also to investigate the unique opportunities to advance further voluntary, grassroots-driven conservation efforts in those areas. 

Over the past seven years, a multitude of federal water resources actions and regulatory practices pose the risk of potentially undermining the economic foundations of rural communities in the arid West by making farming and ranching increasingly more difficult.  One of those actions is and executive order signed by President Obama in July 2010, to adopt implement a new National Ocean Policy (NOP). The policy sets forth yet another level of federal management and oversight intended to improve the way inland, ocean and coastal activities are managed. Unfortunately, this has the potential to impose negative impacts – intended or not - across a spectrum of sectors, including Western agricultural producers and irrigation organizations.

This matter is the topic of an oversight hearing that will be conducted by the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans. Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen (OREGON) was asked to represent Western producers at this hearing. Other witnesses include Elizabeth Kerttula, Director of the National Ocean Council, as well as representatives from Atlantic seaboard and Gulf of Mexico energy and fisheries representatives. 

The Family Farm Alliance has questions about the implications of the new ocean policy, as outlined in Mr. Keppen's written testimony.

“We are uncertain how the Administration’s ocean policy will be implemented,” said Mr. Keppen. “What will the role of states and stakeholder user groups be? Have potential impacts to the economy, the federal budget, and existing statutes and regulatory processes been assessed? How will this complement or conflict with the authority of states? For these reasons, we are concerned that this policy could dramatically increase the role of federal agencies on inland rivers and adjacent lands as they might pertain to the much larger problem of ocean health.”

Mr. Keppen will testify later in the day before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water and Power about Western and California drought legislation. Click here to see his written testimony.

“As we have previously testified before the full Committee, our testimony reiterates that the negative impacts of today’s droughts and water shortages have reached staggering levels for our farmers and ranchers, their families and the irrigated agricultural economy,” said Mr. Keppen. “While the drought-related problems our members face vary by state or region, topography, climate, soil conditions, hydrology, and crop, we believe that many solutions, while varied by location, are also characterized by certain common elements, including creativity, flexibility and balance.”

The regulatory nature of the California drought was also recently addressed in a guest column published by Breitbart penned by Dan Errotabere, an Alliance board member who farms in the Central Valley.

“American family farmers and ranchers for generations have grown food and fiber for the world, and we will have to muster even more innovation to meet this critical challenge,” said Mr. O’Toole.

The Family Farm Alliance believes that innovation must be encouraged rather than stifled with new federal regulations and uncertainty over the water supplies and basic operations for irrigated farms and ranches in the rural West.

“Our engagement in all of these forums will contribute mightily to our efforts to advocate for farmers and ranchers who irrigated in the Western U.S.,” said Mr. O’Toole.

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Contact:         Patrick O’Toole                       Dan Keppen
                       President                                Executive Director
                       (970)-376-6311                       (541)-892-6244
                       h2otoole@gmail.com              dankeppen@charter.net