Court Opinion Brings to Light Concerns Over Swampbuster Enforcement
A recent circuit court opinion is bringing light to concerns about a lack of due process for farmers and ranchers in the arbitrary enforcement of Swampbuster guidelines by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The American Farm Bureau Federation is calling on United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Sec. Sonny Perdue to take action to heed the court’s reprimand and fix the agency’s broken appeals process.
South Dakota Farm Bureau (SDFB) has long advocated for fair and consistent conservation compliance standards for farmers and ranchers to follow. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit case, Boucher v. USDA, shines a light on the need for greater conversation about the impact and frequency of discretionary decisions by NRCS.
“Fair and honest treatment by our government agencies is a basic, reasonable expectation,” said Scott VanderWal, SDFB President. “Producers are too often being denied due process by an agency the courts say is abusing discretion and failing to follow its own guidance.”
The ruling found that NRCS is arbitrarily enforcing Swampbuster guidelines, disregarding regulations laid out by Congress. Swampbuster is a provision of the 1985 Farm Bill that discourages the conversion of wetlands to cropland use.
The abuse did not begin during this administration, but it is time to finally set things right, added VanderWal.
Following the ruling, American Farm Bureau Federation has brought this ongoing issue to Sec. Perdue’s attention, and are asking the following of USDA:
- Retrain National Appeals Division judges and agency directors in how to provide a fair and balanced hearing;
- Require USDA to provide the entire record or decisional documentation to the farmers at the time of alleged compliance violation;
- Allow the farmer and his or her counsel to call NRCS technical staff as witnesses in the appeal;
- Accept evidence provided by the farmer as true, absent substantial evidence to the contrary; and
- Compensate the farmer for legal fees when the farmer wins an appeal – i.e., when the farmer is forced to incur costs as a result of an incorrect decision from NRCS.
To view background information and documents associated to the ruling follow this link https://www.fb.org/newsroom/usda-must-end-nrcs-abuses. More information about South Dakota Farm Bureau can be found at www.sdfbf.org.